Could it be that Hugh Grant was born to play a villainous dandy in a kid’s movie? 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. His delight is contagious.
The family-friendly sequel to the 2014 film about a talking bear cub is a charmer from its first action-packed frames to its over-the-top jailhouse-musical scene during the end credits.
The heart of the movie, directed by Paul King, is once again the title character (voiced by Ben Whishaw): an exceedingly polite but flamboyantly clumsy talking bear from Peru who now lives full time in London with the Brown family. He has won over just about everyone within a one-mile radius, palling around with the garbage collector, random bike commuters and an antiques dealer, Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent).
At Gruber’s oddities shop, Paddington comes across a gorgeous pop-up book that he wants to buy for his beloved Aunt Lucy — the bear who raised him, voiced by Imelda Staunton — for her 100th birthday. Paddington starts picking up odd jobs to save the money for it, but before he can purchase the one-of-a-kind present, the devious Phoenix Buchanan (Grant) steals the treasure.
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The police collar Paddington for the crime and send him to prison. Brown family matriarch Mary (Sally Hawkins) sets about trying to prove his innocence. In the meantime, the furry marmalade addict has to learn to make it alone behind bars.
As you can imagine, the other inmates aren’t easily won over by Paddington’s favorite adages — “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right,” he promises — but even they can’t resist his adorable mug. Soon, the most fearsome, Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), has come around.
Gleeson, like Grant, does sublimely silly work here, although Grant remains the main attraction, thanks in part to his costumed alter egos — which include a seductive nun — and his lengthy conversations with mannequins dressed up as famous fictional characters.
As with the first installment, based on Michael Bond’s children’s books, the sequel is stunning to look at, with inventive, colorful sets and such crafty interludes as a sequence in which Paddington imagines himself and his Aunt Lucy frolicking through the pages of the elusive pop-up book.
“Paddington 2” leans a little heavily on its simplistic message: There’s good in everyone. Still, that’s worth remembering during these divisive times. Maybe all it needs is a lovable bear to drive the point home.
Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor.