Paddington 2 Directed by Paul King

Starring Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, Imelda Saunton and Sally Hawkins
Paddington 2 Directed by Paul King
8
It may sound silly, but Paddington might just be the good-natured bear we need in these troubled times. After the children's literary character, first created by Michael Bond back in 1958, charmed audiences a few years back in his feature film debut, he now returns in Paddington 2 as the same fish-out-of-water (or bear-out-of-woods) in bustling London, with an uncompromising aversion to rudeness and a penchant for marmalade that borders on a crippling addiction. Like Paddington himself, the sequel stays faithful to its origins by recapturing the same sense of gentle whimsy and emotional resonance that made the original a treasure.
 
With Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) now firmly ensconced as a member of the Brown family household, his newest adventure begins when he sets his sights on an antique pop-up book featuring London's greatest landmarks that he hopes to give his aunt (who lives in a home for retired bears and was never able to see London) as a birthday present. There's a lovely and inventive fantasy sequence in which Paddington and his aunt cavort around a London in which the pop-up book has come to life. But the price of the book is rather substantial, so Paddington is forced to bumble his way through doing odd jobs around town to earn some cash.
 
When Paddington witnesses the book being stolen, he hunts down the culprit in a thrilling chase sequence, only to end up being framed for the robbery himself. Though we know the real offender was increasingly unhinged neighbour Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), an actor of some repute who has fallen on hard times in which he's been forced to endure the ultimate indignity of appearing as a dog in a dog food commercial, Paddington is sentenced to serve hard time in prison for the crime.
 
The film has some fun juxtaposing the meek and mild-mannered Paddington against the hardened criminals on the inside, recalling the way Muppets Most Wanted mined similar humour from sending Kermit to the clink. While the Brown family attempts to unravel the mystery in order to free Paddington, and Buchanan uncovers the book's hidden secret as a treasure map of sorts, Grant amusingly hams it up in the same way Nicole Kidman took so well to the villain role in the first film, with his character desperately plotting a comeback that involves a triumphant one-man show.
 
The film's most remarkable achievement, however, remains its ability to bring the animated Paddington so brilliantly to life while having him interact seamlessly with the real environments of London and his human co-stars. Returning director Paul King (who also co-wrote the screenplay) does a fantastic job of not only crafting a number of nimble comic set pieces throughout but keeping us invested in the emotional stakes of what's ultimately a fairly simple and sweet story of a bear wanting to do something nice for his aunt on her birthday. If you're seeking respite from the pervasive cynicism that seems to dominate our culture these days, this is delightful escapism entertainment for all ages. (Warner Bros.)