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Paddington 2

I was sincerely thrilled to see Paddington get a sequel. The movie was a delightful oddity that deserved so much better than the advertising and release date it got. So here I am, finally reviewing Paddington 2, and uh… yeah, it’s pretty much more of the same.

The franchise’s trademark sense of humor is still in place, still defiantly self-aware of its own ridiculous premise and still unmistakably British. It’s unrepentently silly and outrageously implausible, and some of the extended “screwball hijinks” sequences can grate one’s patience. Yet the movie gets away with all of that because so much effort was put into the diabolically clever setups/payoffs and the comic timing of every joke.

What’s more, the movie is bright and colorful, with a ton of neat little sight gags tucked away in the corners. A particular highlight is a pop-up book segment early on that’s simply breathtaking. And of course we can’t forget the multitude of talented actors populating the cast, every last one of whom came ready to play.

Of course, this movie is very different from the prequel in that this is not an origin story. What we get instead is… whoo boy.

First off, Paddington (Ben Whishaw, still endearing in his voice performance of the title role) finds a pop-up book that he wants to get as a birthday present for his beloved Aunt Lucy. Trouble is, the book is one-of-a-kind and worth a great deal of money, so Paddington — clumsy, naive, ignorant yet well-meaning Paddington — has to get a job. Hijinks ensue through the clunky first act, but we’re still not done with the premise.

To make a long and ridiculously contrived story short, the book turns out to be a treasure map. The book is stolen, Paddington is framed for the theft, and he gets sent off to prison. Not like a zoo or anything — that would make too much sense — but an actual prison with human convicts. Meanwhile, Paddington’s adoptive family — the Browns, played once again by Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, and Julie Walters — have to clear Paddington’s name and stop the treasure heist already in progress.

You might be able to see the problem here.

To be fair, the central crux of Paddington’s character is that he always sees the best in everyone, he stays cheery and polite through the worst of adversity, and somehow everything works out for him. With that in mind, putting him in a prison makes all kinds of sense. Unfortunately, so long as Paddington — our title character, remember — is behind bars, his ability to directly impact the plot is significantly limited. Yes, the movie pads out the runtime with sight gags and pratfall sequences, showing how our little bear is making friends and brightening up the prison in his own unique way. And while a fair bit of that is setup for plot points that do indeed pay off at the end, it doesn’t change the fact that most of the actual plot is unfolding without a hitch while the freaking protagonist is sidelined.

So Paddington and his antics take up a third of the runtime while our antagonist (more on him later) takes up at least another third, while the Brown family struggles to keep up. And this is only a 100-minute movie, so it’s not like these characters have a lot of screen time to split between them.

The result is a movie that’s very thinly-plotted, bouncing around from one subplot to the next with more concern for speed than coherent storytelling. Then again, the speed adds a great deal to the comic timing and keeps the jokes coming at a good clip. And anyway, this is a movie about a talking bear who stands just over a meter tall on two legs. Coherence was always going to be a dicey notion with that premise, and the filmmakers have shown perfect awareness of that since day one of the first movie.

There’s no way this movie would’ve worked anywhere near as well without the confidence and comic timing of writer/director Paul King, but of course the cast deserves a great deal of credit as well. There are a ton of great cameo players here — to many to name, in fact, and I’d hate to spoil the surprises — but every single one gets a laugh. We’ve also got Brendan Gleeson in a new supporting role, and it’s fantastic to see him chewing up the scenery in such a ridiculous part. The actors playing the Browns all do okay, even if the lion’s share of their development happened off-screen in between films. Seriously, everything we ever need to know about them is given to us in voice-over at the top of the film, which is pretty sloppy storytelling. Though a lot of it does pay off in surprising ways at the climax, so there’s that.

(Side note: Sally Hawkins’ character has apparently been training to swim across the English Channel, so she gets an underwater sequence here. Didn’t expect to see another underwater sequence with Hawkins again so soon, but here we are.)

But the MVP of the cast is unquestionably Hugh Grant, here playing a washed-up actor who serves as our antagonist. Film historians will have to spend the next several years cataloguing all the different ways that Grant mugs for the camera here. He came here to chew scenery and give fucks, and he’s fresh out of fucks to give. By the end of his mid-credits musical number (yes, you heard me), bits of the scenery have already been passed in his stool and Grant has moved on to chewing the goddamn celluloid. It’s truly an over-the-top marvel.

What it comes down to is that if you saw Paddington and you were hoping for a sequel, Paddington 2 will not disappoint. It’s incredibly stupid and thinly-plotted in a way that will keep the kids entertained, but so much energy and creativity went into the presentation that adults will be entertained as well. It’s not easy to hate something this well-intentioned and committed to its own ludicrous nature. Plus, the movie’s basic theme of staying polite and optimistic is so simple and yet so earnestly presented that it’s really quite charming.

The previous film is still probably the better one — certainly the more focused one, plotwise — but if you’ve already taken your kids to see that one, you should definitely give this one a shot.

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