I’ve mentioned before that I’m not exactly a family movie kind of person and with that out of the way, here’s a review of a family movie watched in a theater packed with families. The first Paddington film overcame a lackluster trailer and my own lack of interest in the children’s book staple and revealed itself as surprisingly pleasant. Nothing amazing, but just something light and likable. The CGI for Paddington Bear and others was well done, and the cast of British character actors helped carry the film. Still, that first film and the reviews (currently sitting at an even 100% on Rotten Tomatoes) got me to check this one out.
Paddington 2 returns director Paul King (The Mighty Boosh) and somehow builds on that first movie’s cast. Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins (fresh off The Shape of Water), Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, the recently regenerated Peter Capaldi, Imelda Staunton, and Michael Gambon return alongside Ben Whishaw (who was a last minute replacement in the first film) as the title voice, only now they are joined by the always fantastic Brendan Gleeson, Joanna Lumley, the always underused Jessica Hynes, Richard Ayoade, etc. and of course Hugh Grant as the delightfully scene chewing villain. Gleeson and Grant especially elevate this film comedically above its predecessor with the former perfect as a gruff straight-man and the latter taking what could be a generic family movie villain and making the character not only tolerable, but quite amusing as well.
Visually, the film is a delight as well, highlighted by a wonderful pop-up book London, but also having some colorful Wes Anderson-esque visuals with specific shots bringing to mind The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and especially The Grand Budapest Hotel. Actually, the more I think about it, the more Paddington 2 feels like it was made by a distinctly British Wes Anderson even beyond the visuals with the portrayal of the Brown family feeling straight out of one of his titles.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of typical family comedy stuff, but the film managed to make the cheap jokes put a smile on my face instead of making me groan. It even got a few chuckles out of me which is an impressive task to say the least. The plot is effective, and the film does an impressive job of making the magic realism aspects of it (well beyond three talking bears) feel natural and all the subplots are well done and build towards the conclusion. It’s fairly predictable stuff, but the film has a way of charming you into making it feel like none of that matters.
I won’t pretend that I found the film much more than a rather enjoyable and amiable title, but considering my opinions of the genre, I’ll call it a win. It’s also a big improvement over the predecessor in just about every regard and seems perfectly designed to make you leave with a smile on your face. It’s an easy recommend to those who saw the first film, but not restrictive to those who have. It’s cute and loveable and based on the reactions of the youths around me, everything a family film should be while still pleasing to those dragged along or even bitter weirdos who go on their own.