‘Paddington 2’: The Advantages of a Good Neighbor Policy
Posted January 11, 2018 8:10 p.m. EST
Fittingly for a benevolent live-action children’s film, “Paddington 2” begins with a gift.
The amiable bear Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) finds a one-of-a-kind pop-up book filled with intricate illustrations of all the landmarks of London, and he plans to send the book to Peru as a birthday present for his beloved aunt Lucy.
This treasure will eventually be stolen by the film’s dastardly villain, the egomaniacal actor Phoenix Buchanan (a delightful Hugh Grant), who hopes to use the book as a map to riches. Buchanan’s interference kicks off an adventure that sends Paddington through a trial, a prison sentence, an escape and a daring pursuit by train.
But before the book becomes a plot point, the movie pauses to bring it to life through Paddington’s eyes. In a bravura sequence of mixed digital effects, Paddington imagines himself and Lucy as miniatures wandering through the book’s pop-up cardboard pages. He waves from within a paper doll crowd as Lucy arrives on a folding boat. The camera swirls, the pages ruffle and the streets of London unfurl to reveal illustrated lamps and paper cars.
The introduction of the pop-up book is an early peak for the film, but it is far from the last sequence of arresting originality. The great surprise of “Paddington 2” is that the director, Paul King, creates a whole world of equally adorable objects, any of which might spring to new life with Paddington’s touch. Pipes become telephones, blankets become hot air balloons and people become kinder, happier versions of themselves.
In one such act of transformation, a group of prisoners, lifted from gloom by Paddington’s marmalade sandwiches and pink prison uniforms, sing calypso to mark his contributions to the penitentiary: “Life would be easier, time would be breezier, if you loved your neighbor.”
Neighborliness is next to godliness in “Paddington 2.” It’s telling that the film’s villain is a performer whose narcissism prohibits collaboration, a man who finds his neighbors a nuisance. For Phoenix Buchanan, the only object worth examining is his own mirror. By contrast, King and his excellent team of actors and animators spin good writing and seamless digital effects into Rococo children’s entertainment. The gags don’t accumulate; they tessellate.
Yet the tone betrays neither effort nor arrogance — pride being a deadly sin for comedy. Instead “Paddington 2” follows the guileless lead of its earnest, ursine little tramp, suggesting tactfully that cinematic ingenuity is another way of showing good manners.
‘Paddington 2’ is rated PG for contribution to the public good; also references to earwax. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes.