Paddington 2 (PG)
Running time 1hr 43mins
ROOTING itself in the same idealised, upper-middle-class London beloved of British cinema’s undisputed Schmaltzfather, the first Paddington film was very much akin to a kiddie-flick in the vein of a Richard Curtis rom-com. Although this sequel is NOT, in fact, a Curtis project (well, we’ve come to expect stranger things of this genre – remember Martin Scorsese’s Hugo?), it doubles down on the Yank-friendly slush that rendered its predecessor the definition of CG-driven Marmite, all tweed jackets, stone lions and yellow raincoats. I get the sense that those who found Episode One a mildly irritating watch will be out of the cinema within minutes this time round, but fans young and old of Michael Bond’s quintessentially British icon might well enjoy this second rendition quite a bit more than the last, boasting as it does the delectable Hugh Grant, an erstwhile Curtis favourite, in the role of Mr Big.
Nicole Kidman’s billing as a slinky villainess was among the first of Paddington’s toughest sells – there was a real awkwardness there, as if she didn’t quite fit into this storybook tale of anthropomorphic bears – and Grant, while gelling seamlessly with the franchise’s High Brittonic vibe, does not necessarily spring to mind as the go-to guy for old-school baddie-ism. Yet his work here, as a has-been thespian (geddit?) roped into a MacGuffin hunt with our titular hero (Paddington Bear has set his sights upon, of all things, a vintage pop-up book), has atremendous payoff, the Four Weddings star channelling nefariousness and charming kitsch in equal measure.
But Hugh, of course, can’t be the keeper of the flame for everything he’s in, and I intend to dish out credit as its due. Ben Whishaw’s voice work is again complemented by some bright, frequently surprising visuals; this time, however, Paddington comes packaged with a decidedly serious political message, setting the whole thing apart from a precursor whose patriotism was loveably uncynical. Little England finds its embodiment in the ironically-named Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi, doing what he does best), a greying grouch who has become hostile to the furry Peruvian émigré living next door; Paddington 2 seeks, on the other hand, to champion a vibrant, multi-ethnic Britain (and the team behind the scenes have packed in a suitably diverse cast, to boot – Richard Ayoade, among other big names, gets airtime).
Of course, this isn’t a particularly bold or incisive satire; his newfound savvy won’t win the nation’s favourite bear any new admirers, and the film presents a vision of London life as lacking in nuance as the last’s – this could very easily have been a production by the British Tourist Board. But the tots will be captivated, and that’s really the only thing that matters.