The first clear view we get of the eponymous ursine hero of Paddington 2 (hanging from rope, over a raging waterfall in Peru, don’t ask) elicited a collective ‘aww’ from the audience I was with. Beginning on this sentimental note, the film never releases us from its icky claws. It is a remorseless, expertly designed vehicle for the delivery of cuteness. Making marmalade in a prison kitchen (I’ll explain) Paddington is extremely generous with the sugar, adding an extra jar of the stuff before licking out its remains with his elongated tongue. The same principle applied to the making of this motion picture: immodest helpings of whatever sweetening agent is to hand, then some more for good luck.
If this makes Paddington 2 sound excessively saccharine, there is an accompanying application of charm, even melancholy restraint that makes this family film rather wonderful. It is a worthy successor to the 2014 movie Paddington, and beautifully captures the homespun appeal and low-key whimsy of the books by Michael Bond.
We’re back in a picture-book London following the adventures of Paddington, a small bear from Peru in a rumpled hat and duffle coat, with a liking for marmalade and a voice of boyish innocence (Ben Whishaw). A creature of lovingly fashioned CGI, Paddington shares the screen with actors, including Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins, who play Mr and Mrs Brown, the couple who have adopted the bear and installed him in their West London home. The idea that this eye-wateringly expensive borough would be home to an ordinary family is about as plausible as a talking bear, but this isn’t a film for those quibbles.
Few performers could get away with lines like “I’ve never had complaints about Mr and Mrs Buttycheeks”, but Hugh Grant makes them fly.
The action begins with Paddington’s decision to buy an antique pop-up book as a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy in Peru. Saving the money to buy the book from a bit of window-cleaning (which involves an exquisitely executed sight gag involving a bucket, a rope and a flowerpot), Paddington is about to make the purchase when the item is stolen. The
perpetrator is Phoenix Buchanan, a down-on-his-luck actor played by Hugh Grant.
Ah yes, Hugh Grant: he’s terrific, playing the scheming, narcissistic Buchanan with plummy abandon and artful camp. Imagine Withnail had been allowed to grow up and swapped the booze for career criminality, and you have some measure of the monstrous blend of actorly self-regard and ruthless self-advancement. Few performers could get away with lines like “I’ve never had complaints about Mr and Mrs Buttycheeks”, but Grant makes them fly.
Buchanan ensures that Paddington is wrongly accused of the theft, and he spends much of the film locked up, in a vast prison by the Thames (a dolls-house blend of Wes Anderson and Victorian Gothic). As the Browns try to clear his name, Paddington busies himself with improving life in the prison, converting the drab canteen run by the fearsome chef Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson) into a Bake Off-style emporium.
I suppose one could detect a cheering message about welcoming immigrants in this tale of an outsider from Peru settling in London, and there’s certainly something heartwarming about the celebration of good manners and civility. Released in time for Christmas (and with the makings of a future festive stalwart), it’s hard to resist this understated, delicate, winningly eccentric movie.
Paddington 2 is in cinemas from November 10