If marmalade sandwiches are back on the menu, it can only mean the Paddington sequel has arrived. The 2014 original, a live-action film with a computer-generated bear, was as warm ‘n fuzzy as its main character. If the sequel has a few odd ideas—Paddington spends almost half the movie in jail?—it still supplies a happy ration of kid-friendly slapstick, grown-up jokes, and a batch of the most recognizable actors in Britain.
Paddington (voiced again by Ben Whishaw) is settled in the London home of his human family (headed by Shape of Water star Sally Hawkins and Downton Abbey guy Hugh Bonneville). When the bear wants to buy a rare book as a birthday present for his ursine aunt back in Peru, it means he’ll have to earn money—an idea that allows the filmmakers to create slapstick routines around Paddington’s experiences as a window-washer and barber. I suspect director Paul King studied some silent-movie comedians for these sequences, because they’re peppered with sight gags and split-second timing. Our hero goes to prison because of mistaken identity, a twist that introduces us to Brendan Gleeson as a fearsome jailhouse chef (one of the film’s funniest performances). The lesson here: If only all penitentiaries would serve homemade marmalade sandwiches, we’d probably have a smaller rate of recidivism.
Paddington 2 is good fun throughout, but the person having (and causing) the most fun is Hugh Grant. He plays a washed-up actor named Phoenix Buchanan—reduced to barnstorming in carnivals and selling dog food on TV—who becomes Paddington’s greatest nemesis. When actors make comedy look effortless they are always underrated, and Grant has been underrated for years. This plummy role allows him to spoof showbiz itself, and he looks like he’s having a blast (“I am tickled the deepest shade of shrimp,” he declares, a phrase I vow to work into my everyday conversation). Other deft performers making the most of their chances include Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, and departing Dr. Who Peter Capaldi.
There’s great charm here, but also a kind of manifesto for optimism. Goodness is its own reward in Paddington 2, and the movie throws its rare darts at an anti-immigrant loudmouth. I recently came down hard on Darkest Hour, a hammy movie about Winston Churchill, as “a TV commercial for the indomitable British spirit.” For a far more engaging embodiment of the indomitable British spirit, I nominate the Paddington films. In this dark hour, best follow the bear. Opens Friday Jan. 12 at various area theaters; rated PG