Reading reviews of Paddington 2 you might be mistaken for thinking reviewers were dishing 5 star reviews after too many marmalade sandwiches. The lack of dissenting opinion might be due to recovering from them writing up the apparently deadened Murder on the Orient Express, or that criticising Paddington is akin to hating crumpets or tripping old ladies over in the street. Not only is he the only bear we allow to store sandwiches under his hat without judgement, but he represents an innocence we all lost. Apparently the director Paul King walked around the block rather than sit through the original’s preview screening with Paddington’s creator Michael Bond in case he disliked it. He loved it and so did everyone else.
Both films are gorgeous, switching from animation, to stop-start, to traditional illustration and pop-up books, to CGI and 2d drawings with the abandonment of an anniversary party marking early a-Ha videos. Much like the population of London, you don’t question the existence of a duffel coat wearing bear for a moment, and that animating a bear that once had two dots for eyes and a little smile is something my grandmother would have fainted at after asking how they’d trained it.
So, is the new film any good? The first film was watched through the hands of childhood memories, before revealing itself as charm personified, as the Peruvian bear negotiated the modern world with the comedic competence of Crocodile Dundee . When I say modern, the films depict tranquil west London streets without an agitated deliveroo rider, clueless Uber driver or over-congested roads in sight. The seconds it takes the refuse truck to negotiate Ludgate Hill outside St Paul’s would take twenty minutes in real life. The existence of Notting Hill’s victorian architecture will be a revelation to easterly hipsters rarely straying beyond Old Street roundabout, with barber quartets on every corner and wood panelled barbers. It looks more like Paris, another over-romantacised city. Yet it works. It understands the importance of escapism.
You might expect bigger bangs for a bigger budget and there is a car stunt involving driving through a small black board. It’s not exactly the Fast & the Furious. Otherwise it’s much the same, other than a steam train chase, which I’m sure most viewers noticed involved the Class A1 Peppercorn 60163 Tornado: the first steam engine built in Britan since 1960.
Although it’s a lesson in tight scripting there are fewer set pieces than before and could have benefited from more. Laughs are sharp and mannered, but not wrung perhaps as dry as they might be. Hugh Grant hams it up, but again perhaps not to the peaks reviewers suggested. That his Phoenix Buchanan hates working with other people is something most people on a bad day can relate to. Otherwise it’s a gentle romp involving the restorative main of marmalade.
I certainly missed any Brexit references that the New Statesman rather predictably read into it, unless it meant a prison break reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s Budapest Hotel. Every toffee apple from previous scenes counts, and perhaps the film’s only flaw is that expectations are high. Already having been awarded 5 stars it feels more like 4.
My debut novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 – is available here –
It features no bears.
and on ebook here –