[Screen It]


(2017) (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins) (PG)

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Family Adventure: Paddington the Bear is framed for stealing a rare and valuable pop-up book, and it's up to the Brown family to clear his name.
After years in the jungle, Paddington the bear (voice of BEN WHISHAW) has settled into a comfortable lifestyle in London living with the Brown family. The Browns are as eccentric as ever, with patriarch Henry (HUGH BONNEVILLE) going through a midlife crisis after being passed over for a promotion at work; matriarch Mary (SALLY HAWKINS), who yearns for an adventure beyond her children's book illustrations; teen daughter Judy (MADELEINE HARRIS), who has started an indie newspaper after her boyfriend broke up with her; and teen son Jonathan (SAMUEL JOSLIN), who is no longer interested in toy trains and has adopted a hip-hop alter ego.

Paddington remains constant and steadfast in his polite manners, good humor, and eagerness to look for the good in others. His kind and genuine ways are adored by his neighbors, which include forgetful Dr. Jafri (SANJEEV BHASKAR), newly smitten couple Colonel Lancaster (BEN MILLER) and Miss Kitts (JESSICA HYNES), and Mrs. Bird (JULIE WALTERS), the Browns live-in housekeeper. Only Homeowners Association President Mr. Curry (PETER CAPALDI) still has it in for Paddington from the first film.

Tensions rise when Paddington is accused of stealing a valuable pop-up book from Mr. Gruber's (JIM BROADBENT) antique store -- a book he had been saving to buy for his Aunt Lucy's (voice of IMELDA STAUNTON) 100th birthday. Paddington is sent to jail, where he befriends a gruff prison cook named Knuckles McGinty (BRENDAN GLEESON), and soon comes to learn that down-on-his-luck actor Phoenix Buchanan (HUGH GRANT) is the real criminal and believes the book contains clues to a long-forgotten treasure.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
As was the case with the first "Paddington" movie, the United Kingdom released this film late in its calendar year "across the pond" to qualify for BAFTA (the British equivalent of the Oscars) award consideration. In the United States, though, both "Paddington" and the new "Paddington 2" received January releases -- way early for awards consideration the following year. And that's a shame, because both films legitimately feature award-caliber art direction, visual effects, and even writing. Heck, the BAFTA nods came out earlier this week, and "Paddington 2" was touted in several major categories including Hugh Grant for Best Supporting Actor.

Grant plays the sequel's villain here, and he is indeed splendid. A once-famous and respected actor now reduced to dog food commercials and ribbon cutting ceremonies, his Phoenix Buchanan is a particularly demented and supremely narcissistic man who is no longer able to work well with others and dreams only of putting together enough money to stage one-man shows on London's West End, in which he would reprise all of the famous and infamous characters he's ever played on stage and film.

He sees the opportunity to raise such funds in the form of an antique pop-up book that our title character (once again voiced by Ben Whishaw) has been working hard and saving up to buy for his beloved Aunt Sally (voice of Imelda Staunton). Buchanan steals the book and frames Paddington for the crime. It's up to the kindly Brown family, who took in the kindly bear during the events of the first "Paddington" movie, to clear their bear friend's name and catch the real thief.

"Paddington 2" maintains all of the considerable charm of the first film and throws in a hefty bit of whimsy, cheer, and good fun. Things are dire for our dear Paddington. But even when he is sentenced to a decade in prison, his impeccable manners and unwavering belief in the goodness of others transforms the dark, Gothic jail and its inhabitants to the point where they are polite to each other and there are tablecloths on each table, flower pots outside each cell, and a banner that reads "Prison Sweet Prison."

It's a nutty film, stuffed with British eccentrics and eccentric Brits. If you were in a "Harry Potter" film a decade ago, chances are there was an open-door policy to be cast in this flick. Such Hogwarts vets as Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Michael Gambon, and Imelda Staunton all play fairly prominent roles. Most of the original "Paddington" cast is back, too, including all four members of the Brown family.

My only criticism of "Paddington 2" is that it stuffs so much new into the storyline, that some of my favorite returning characters don't get the same amount of love and attention this time around. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are still great as Henry and Mary Brown, but their kids barely register this time. Even a couple of the new additions, most notably Ben Miller's Colonel Lancaster (an initially shut-in neighbor of the Browns who finds love with a corner newsstand lady), are nudged out of screen time.

But I'd rather have a movie try and do too much than too little. And "Paddington 2" is a feast for the eyes and the soul. From a really cool trek through modern-day London by way of the pop-up book's pop-up pages come to life to a great montage of Paddington's brief slapstick misadventures as a window cleaner to the recurring cameo of the calypso band Tobago Crusoe as the movie's de facto Greek chorus, this is just a delight from opening titles to closing credits. It's that rare sequel that's an equal, and I give it a most enthusiastic 8 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed January 9, 2018 / Posted January 12, 2018

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