“Paddington 2” is one of those rare sequels (and very rare children’s movie sequels) where the second installment improves on the first.
The follow-up to the 2014 film is warm, charming and visually inventive in all the ways of its predecessor but just a bit more so in every department.
The impetus for the sequel is simple: Paddington, a computer-animated bear voiced by Ben Whishaw, wants to get a present for his Aunt Lucy for her 100th birthday. The bear who raised him is back in the jungles of Peru, and only the perfect gift will do.
Paddington finds a lovely pop-up book of London at an antiques shop (run by Jim Broadbent), a book that turns out to be a treasure map, enticing the evil eye of Phoenix Buchanan, a fading famous actor who now does dog commercials. Phoenix is played by Hugh Grant, a famous fading actor who now stars in bear movies.
To be fair, Grant makes for an enjoyably ridiculous villain in a part that comes with no small amount of self-deprecation.
A misunderstanding soon lands Paddington in the clink, where he promptly improves prison conditions through the power of marmalade sandwiches.
Meanwhile, Paddington’s surrogate family, the Browns (Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin) are back in free society trying to clear Paddington’s name.
Paul King, who also directed the first “Paddington,” gives the film a healthy amount of slapstick action sequences and fully animated interludes. A few scenes are hand-drawn, and in one glimpse into Paddington’s imagination, we see the polite little bear and his aunt enter the world of a pop-up storybook.
The sweet, simple and silly stuff in “Paddington 2” should entertain children well enough. But the film offers nearly as many pleasures for adults. The movie has a twee aesthetic and something of an absurd streak, especially in its prison scenes, which recall those from Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel.”
You know a movie knows what it’s doing when it casts Brendan Gleeson as a surly prison chef named Knuckles McGinty.
And at the center of it all is the sweet little bear. The beloved character, created by Michael Bond nearly 60 years ago, continues to walk through life with a kind word always at the ready.
Given the popularity of “Paddington 2,” he’s likely got a few more adventures (and marmalade sandwiches) under his hat.
* * *
Director: Paul King
Cast: Ben Whishaw (voice), Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson
Rating: PG for some action and mild rude humor
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Theaters: Aksarben, Bluffs 17, Majestic, Oakview, Regal, Twin Creek, Village Pointe, Westroads