Sunday 19 November 2017

Paddington 2 movie review: Paddington enchants in this thoroughly winning family comedy

Paddington enchants in this thoroughly winning family comedy

Bear necessity: Only an almighty grump wouldn't fall for Paddington
Bear necessity: Only an almighty grump wouldn't fall for Paddington

Paul Whitington

When I first saw stills from Paul King and David Heyman's 2014 family film Paddington, I didn't like the look of their bear one little bit. Since Michael Bond first dreamt him up way back in 1958, the lovable but accident-prone animal has starred in dozens of books, a Marmite ad (he needed the money, presumably) and three TV series.

The one I remembered was a delightful BBC animation voiced by the late Michael Hordern: that Paddington had been rotund, cuddly and waddled slightly when he walked; this one was lean, sharper-faced and looked like he'd been denied marmalade sandwiches for months. Why were these people f***ing with my childhood?

My misgivings, however, turned out to be groundless, because Paddington was a warm-hearted and altogether irresistible little film that skilfully blended the bear's traditional charm with bracing doses of modern wit. And the good news is that this sequel is, if anything, even better.

To bring you up to date, Paddington Bear was raised in the rainforests of Peru by kindly relatives who imbued him with the finer points of British culture - basically marmalade and manners - leaving the creature with a life-long dream of visiting London. He did so after stowing away on a cargo ship and, on reaching the English capital, was taken in by the Browns, a long-suffering family who smiled indulgently while he flooded their bathroom and staggered from disaster to disaster.

As Paddington 2 opens, the tiny Peruvian is very much a member of the family, but still misses his Aunt Lucy and wants to get her a special present to celebrate her 100th birthday. He finds the perfect thing in his friend Mr Gruber's antique shop - a beautiful vintage pop-up book about London. But unfortunately for Paddington, it's very expensive, so to save up he starts cleaning windows for neighbours.

One of them, a has-been actor called Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), is not to be trusted and when Paddington tells him about the pop-up book, the old ham realises it's a coded treasure map. When Buchanan dons one of his many ridiculous disguises and steals the book from the shop, Paddington gets the blame and is sent to jail.

There he will struggle to make friends until the terrifying prison cook, Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), takes the bear under his wing and decides to help him clear his name.

Only an almighty grump could fail to be enchanted by this good-natured whimsy, and yet again Paul King and his co-writer Simon Farnaby have wonderfully caught the playful innocence of the original stories while adding more than enough adult humour to keep the guardians entertained. The casting is spot on: Ben Whishaw's voice-over of the Cgi Paddington winningly transmits his single-mindedness and insistence at all times on politeness.

Gleeson's Knuckles McGinty falls far short of Paddington's high standards in this regard, but eventually learns the error of his ways. His performance is spot on - he reminded me of a fuming cartoon villain, like Desperate Dan. Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville reprise their roles as Mr and Mrs Brown, and Bonneville, a W1A alumnus, deals expertly with the comic moments that come his way. But it's Hugh Grant who walks away with every scene he's in.

In recent times, Grant has been better known for his epic public battles with the British tabloids than his acting, but lately there have been signs of life. His portrayal of a failed Hollywood screenwriter who takes a university teaching job in the 2014 US indie film The Rewrite was promising, and last year, in Florence Foster Jenkins, Grant reminded us just how sublime a comic actor he is when he can be bothered.

In Paddington 2, we get a sense perhaps of what he really thinks about his profession, because Phoenix Buchanan is a ghastly ham, a preening, spiteful former star whose vanity is exceeded only by his contempt for the masses. It's a wonderful comic turn.

Films coming soon...

Justice League (Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot); Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool (Annette Bening, Julie Walters); Good Time (Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh); In The Name Of Peace (John Hume); Daddy's Home 2 (Will Ferrell).

Irish Independent

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