Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Noah Taylor, Aaron Neil, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Tom Conti, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Richard Ayoade
Written by: Paul King, Simon Farnaby, based on characters created by Michael Bond
Directed by: Paul King
MPAA Rating: PG for some action and mild rude humor
Running Time: 104
Date: 01/12/2018

Paddington 2 (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Marmalade to Order

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Paul King's Paddington (2015) was so surprisingly wonderful and such an unlikely hit that it seemed nearly impossible for a sequel to be any good. Yet Paddington 2 currently holds a Rotten Tomatoes record, with a perfect 100% rating based on 172 reviews. (Now it will be 173; in full confession, my son and I skipped the press screening of Paddington 2 and we only caught up with it later after we saw the reviews.)

The sequel begins with a flashback, showing Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) and Uncle Pastuzo (voiced by Michael Gambon) rescuing the young bear from river rapids. Then, in the present day, Paddington (digitally animated in a real world and sweetly voiced by Ben Whishaw) seeks a 100th birthday gift for Aunt Lucy, and it has to be perfect. In the antique shop, Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent) shows him a pop-up book with images of London. But it's a one-of-a-kind item and quite expensive, so Paddington begins working odd jobs to save up for the book.

Meanwhile, out-of-work actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) takes an interest in the book, steals it, and blames the theft on Paddington. Thanks to an unfortunate incident in a barber chair (one of his odd jobs) with the judge, Paddington goes to jail. There, he uses his kindness and good manners to win the hearts of the surly inmates and changes the entire atmosphere of the place; the dining hall is transformed from a miserable place of inedible gruel to a cute restaurant serving pastries and deserts.

Paddington's family, the Browns — Henry (Hugh Bonneville), Mary (Sally Hawkins), Judy (Madeleine Harris), and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) — continue to investigate the crime and visit Paddington, while fellow prisoners Phibs (Noah Taylor), Spoon (Aaron Neil), and Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson) plan an escape. It all comes down to an exciting showdown on a moving train!

In 2015, I marveled at the very existence of a movie that championed good manners and kindness, but I had no idea how much more those things would matter in 2018. The brilliance of the screenplay is that Paddington never loses faith in his beliefs, and even when it seems impossible, his fine behavior actually does win the day, every time. (The conflict comes in waiting to see how his goodness and kindness will work.)

King's direction is bright, crisp, and cheerful, never getting bogged down in unnecessary subplots and never succumbing to shaky-cam or fast cuts, not even during chase scenes. There are hundreds of perfectly-timed jokes (a bucket falling from above or a red sock in the laundry) or happy little moments. He frequently turns the movie into fantastic moments of wonder, such as Paddington's imaginary visit with his aunt inside the pop-up book, or a delightful carnival sequence. Only a tense, drawn-out underwater rescue seemed a tad too intense for such a kind, sweet movie. Regardless, I've learned my lesson; I will never pre-judge a Paddington movie again. This is one special bear.

The Blu-ray release from Warner Bros. highlights the movie's lovely, cozy color scheme and its fabulous production design; the audio track is also sharp and balanced. It includes a short making-of featurette, a 3-minute "How to Make a Marmalade Sandwich" video, a music video (which is basically the Hugh Grant musical number from the film), and a few other short features. Writer/director Paul King provides an interesting commentary track, which is unusual and refreshing for a kid-friendly release. There are also various language tracks and subtitle options, as well as several trailers at startup. Highly recommended.

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