I sometimes spend a few moments thinking about the many authors that did not live long enough to see their creations hit the big screen. People like William Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, who passed away in 1947. Or even J.R.R. Tolkein, who died 28 years before the release of the first film in Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning trilogy. What would they have thought? Would they have appreciated the popularity these interpretations had achieved? Or ranted against it?
Fortunately Michael Bond, the author of the Paddington series, did survive to see his creation brought to the big screen in 2014. And like everyone else, he saw it as the whimsical feel-good piece of cinema that it was.
It’s truly a shame that Bond did not live to see the sequel in its entirety (having passed away in June 2017). Mainly because he missed out on, not just one of the best children’s films ever made, but one of the best films made this side of the millennium.
Having been accepted into the Brown family, Paddington Brown (voiced by Ben Whitshaw) is now a popular member of the local community. Needing to find a present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, he consults with his friend Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent) and discovers an old pop-up book of London.
Finding the cost to be out of his reach, Paddington takes on a series of odd jobs to try and raise some cash. However, acclaimed (and incredibly narcissistic) actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) has also taken an unhealthy interest in the book, and will stop at nothing to obtain it.
As I was leaving the Paddington 2 screening, I happened to eavesdrop on a conversation between a pair of teenage boys; with one of them excitedly exclaiming “Hugh Grant was awesome!”
Such a phrase, I would guess, has not been said about Mr Grant by anyone under the age of 30 for many a year. And yet, it’s a phrase that I confess I whole-heartedly agree with. This is easily the best role Hugh Grant has occupied since the first Bridget Jones movie. (Though as a screenwriter I do have a soft-spot for his performance in 2014’s The Rewrite!)
With oodles of wit and charm, Grant’s performance is heavily reminiscent of Vincent Price’s vengeful (and hilarious) actor in 1973’s Theatre of Blood. Like Price before him, Grant chooses to show his character’s worship at the altar of acting in the most OTT way possible; and as a result gains the lion’s share of the film’s laughs.
In fact, the entire star-studded cast is on top form. Ranging from the return of Paddington’s adopted family (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Samuel Joslin and Madeleine Harris), to the grumpy prison chef Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson); each actor has as much fun as they can muster. If anything, the only disappointment was that notable comedians like Richard Ayoade and Joanna Lumley were only granted one scene each to stretch their acting prowess.
Moreover all the actors are helped along by strong work from returning writer/director Paul King. No longer needing to deal with the dreaded “origin story”, King (co-writing with Simon Farnaby) delivers a script that takes the accomplished original and elevates everything to eleven. With train-based action sequences, a prison breakout, and lots of witticisms and call-backs, the canvas King now paints upon feels utterly limitless.
But the best children’s films aren’t just entertainment, but parables helping to guide our younger ones (and sometimes adults!) into understanding alternative viewpoints. Touchy-feely as that may sound, Paddington 2 has a beautiful thread of humanity at its core, by showing tolerance and acceptance are the very basis of what it is to be British.
Approaching Godfather Part II levels of improvement, Paddington 2 takes what worked so well in the original and infuses it with an abundance of charm and happiness. Consider yourself dead inside if you don’t walk out with a smile on your face. Let’s call it now: Paddington 2 is the best film of 2017.