But perhaps the newest aspect to Paddington 2 is the fact that the sequel takes some darker turns than one would expect in a typical children's film. Grant is perfectly cast here, playing this preening would-be musical star for all its worth and fitting the villain slot that Nicole Kidman served so deliciously in the first film. Paddington reveals to Phoenix the book he's about to buy, and Phoenix realizes the antique is far more valuable than £1,000.
Paddington 2 finds Paddington happily settled with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens, where he has become a popular member of the community, spreading joy and marmalade wherever he goes.
Three years after he moved to London, Paddington (Ben Whishaw) is looking to get his Aunt Lucy the ideal birthday present - an antique pop-up book of London. When the book is stolen, Paddington is wrongly jailed for the crime, and the Browns have to find a way to prove his innocence. As the Brown family, led once more by the pairing of the always-smiling Sally Hawkins as the mom and the harrumphy Hugh Bonneville as the dad, works to clear the bear's name, he slowly acclimates himself to prison life, even after the guards solemnly inform him that there will be no bedtime stories.
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All in all, "Paddington 2" has a warmth and wit that's missing from many a children's movie.
As he did in the first, co-writer/director Paul King has made a top-notch CGI animated film crammed with the sort of droll British humor that made household icons of Wallace and Gromit. As the best family friendly movies do, Paddington 2 succeeds at being an entertaining romp that never calls excess attention to its own thoughtfulness. The verbal jokes (every newspaper headline we see contains a clever bit) fold easily into the visual tone (director King's staging and framing treats the action as a series of storybook pop-up moments, carefully composed but fleet-footed). Paddington adores the Browns, and the feeling is definitely mutual. The movie is full of bright wit and honest joy, as Paddington's innate kindness permeates all around him, providing a tired world just what it needs right now. But oh, how your heart goes out to Paddington when he cries thinking that his (human) family has forgotten him. Maybe moviegoers will be intrigued by Sally Hawkins ("The Shape of Water"), who returns as Paddington's adoptive mother, Mrs. The culprit is the diabolical yesteryear actor Phoenix Buchanan (a deliciously multi-accented and malevolent Hugh Grant). (He and Paddington coveted the same curio in that shop, a pop-up book that clearly has more than aesthetic value.) Grant shines nearly as brightly here as he did in "Florence Foster Jenkins", finding the flawless mix of nastiness and harmlessness that makes for a great kiddie villain.
Paddington 2 is sweet without being diabetic and endearing without being manipulative. Those who loved the first Paddington no doubt need little encouragement to give this followup a look, but newcomers to the series can feel safe in climbing aboard the bandwagon here too, thanks to the largely standalone nature of the sequel. He certainly seems to be having the time of his life hamming it up in "Paddington 2" as a pretentious, has-been actor who's now relegated to dressing up like a spaniel for dog food commercials.
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