Film: "Paddington 2"; Director: Paul King; Cast: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Hugh Grant, Brandan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Simon Farnaby, Tom Conti and Noah Taylor; Rating: ***
Based on the long-running children's book series from renowned author Michael Bond, which was first published in 1957, director Paul King's "Paddington 2" is a charming and narratively more satisfying sequel to the 2014 released "Paddington".
Just like the original film made an impassioned case for accepting and welcoming immigrants, this edition makes a plea for kindness, civility and looking for the good in people. It is every bit as perfectly tuned, cruelty-free funny and kind-hearted film as its earlier edition.
Like its first edition, this chapter of adventures begins by plunging through the cloudy Peruvian jungle giving an insight to Paddington's pre-London days, before settling to the present-day narrative where its predecessor left off with Paddington in the Notting Hill abode of the Brown family, adorably headed by Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville.
Here we see, Paddington, once again voiced impeccably by Ben Whishaw, leading a happy life. Outgoing, adorable and childlike in his directness, he retains his ursine instincts, suddenly slurping at the marmalade-smeared head of a barbershop customer, for example.
He takes up odd jobs at the barbers and cleaning windows in the neighbourhood, in order to collect money for a "popping book" of London, which he intends to buy from the immigrant antique dealer Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent). He wants this book to send it as a gift to his Anglophile Aunt Lucy in Peru for her 100th birthday.
But unfortunately, unbeknownst to Paddington, there is someone else who has been eyeing the book. When that person breaks into the shop to steal the volume, Paddington gives a chase astride a trusty Irish wolfhound only to somehow wrongfully land in prison as the suspected thief.
The real thief, the man-of-many disguises, is the Brown's neighbour, the waning West End star Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). Buchanan pinches the book for clues to a hidden fortune. How Paddington clears his name alongside the Brown family's amateur detective work and the help from his rough but soft-hearted friends from the prison, forms the witty, albeit slender narrative thread.
What is remarkable is the compact and ingenious plotting in director Paul King and his co-screenwriter Simon Farnaby's script. With retro mechanism of coincidences, mysteries and mini-puzzles the plot is a delight. It is further supported by the seamless digital integration of a talking bear into a live-action London jam-packed with even stranger diversions.
The scrambling action scenes are lively, complicated and enjoyable, making it feel that its cinematic universe is a caper.
On the performance front, the actors slip into their roles with apt precision. Apart from Hugh Grant, who plays the self-centred Phoenix Buchanan with elan, it is Brendan Gleeson as the violent cook Knuckles who leaves an impact on screen.
Ben Whishaw's lissome voice-work makes Paddington an utterly engaging character. Equally convincing are Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon as Paddington's Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo.
Visually, every frame is like an intricate-scaled diorama, a work of art built up from thousands of tiny, thoughtful details that would enthral you over several viewings.
Overall, this film would appeal to children and adults alike.