This film starts with the well-meaning Peruvian bear happily acclimated and settled with the Brown family in their posh and homey London neighborhood. As a bastion of courteousness, Paddington (Whishaw) still sends letters regularly to his dear aunt Lucy (Staunton) who will be turning 100 in the next few weeks. As a result, Paddington pursuits a rare pop-up book he'd like to send as a gift. Unbeknownst to him, the book holds the key to a hidden treasure which has been hunted for ages by the nefarious Phoenix Buchanan (Grant), former star of the stage and screen.
Those who delighted in the warmth and wit of the original Paddington will find just as much to enjoy in this playful continuation. Paddington 2 takes full advantage as a sequel by immediately feeling more lived-in and comforting to those in the know, while still remaining as welcoming as ever to outsiders who are just now hopping on the bear's bandwagon. More impressively, it also retains the same emotional intelligence, thematic clarity and childlike wonder in such a way that it feels almost dirty to call something like this a "sequel" to a "franchise".
It'd be more appropriate to simply say that Paddington 2 is a joy to watch, with the only obvious negative being that it remains unassuming and modest when it should be shouting its ability to engage from the rooftops. There is an able effort to shake the material from humility in the form of Hugh Grant who positively oozes charisma and is a gas to see chewing the scenery. The film lightly lampoon's Grant's off-screen persona by having the villain vamp against mannequins, sporting costumes of roles long past. It's a fun role but the ensemble isn't as all in as he is. This is not to say Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent and Brendan Gleeson aren't good, they're just left in the dust a lot of the time. There's also a few deus ex machina moments that lit up my pessimistic adult brain, but in a movie that has a full on jailhouse musical number, I'm willing to forgive the wayward assumption that good things can actually happen to good people (and bears). All in all, Paddington 2 is a charming affair - one which takes the daintily assembled world of the first and builds on it with heedless aplomb. In many ways it's a comfort for these increasingly cynical times. It serves as stark reminder that while adversity always abounds, a little bit of gumption and politeness can make this world just that much more pleasant.