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Paddington 2 Review

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

Paddington 2 poster

Here's hoping the forthcoming film version of "Peter Rabbit" is less awful than its trailers suggest. Reformulating Beatrix Potter as a brutish "Home Alone"/"Straw Dogs" melee, full of grim electrocutions, really does seem like a mistake.

Meantime, fortunately, there's "Paddington 2."

The sequel to the 2014 picture turns out to be every bit as deft, witty and, yes, moving as the first one. It's a little over-packed, narratively. But the further adventures of the dear Peruvian bear, adopted by the Brown family of London, express an unusually generous worldview. Ben Whishaw's vocal characterization as Paddington plays everything for simplicity and easygoing optimism. Even with a fair amount of calamity and adversity in the story, the slapstick setbacks are treated with a light touch. You don't feel beaten up by the filmmakers' attempts to engage a variety of audience quadrants; "Paddington 2" is a lover, not a fighter.

Director Paul King returns to the franchise, co-writing "Paddington 2" with Simon Farnaby. Life is good for the wee bear, who draws the paranoid ire of nativist local law enforcement (Peter Capaldi) but who has a wealth of friends all over his beloved city. The plot concerns a precious pop-up book Paddington wants to buy as a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy, back in Peru. The book, however, contains clues to a vast fortune, hidden away somewhere in London.

Someone's onto the secret: a Shakespearean actor now getting by on dog food commercials, and dreaming of a one-man West End show to restore his former glory. Hugh Grant plays this ham, a master of disguise and a courtier of camp. He is very funny -- a clear step up, both as acted and scripted, from the first "Paddington" movie's villain, the murderous taxidermist played by Nicole Kidman.

Framed for the book's theft, Paddington ends up doing hard time. True to form, though, behind bars the bear improves the moods and the outlooks of his fellow prisoners. Brendan Gleeson is a significant asset in the role of Knuckles McGinty, the prison chef who becomes Paddington's protector and pal. There's a jailbreak straight out of Wes Anderson and "The Grand Budapest Hotel," a somewhat protracted chase sequence set aboard a train, and an end-credits sequence featuring Grant and a "Prisoners of Love"-type chorus performing an unlikely Sondheim song ("Listen to the Rain on the Roof," from "Follies") as a finale.

"Paddington 2" throws a lot at our plaintive hero, and a lot at the audience. The verbal jokes (every newspaper headline we see contains a clever bit) fold easily into the visual felicities (director King's staging and framing treats the action as a series of storybook pop-up moments, carefully composed but fleet-footed). The mixture of live action and computer-generated imagery feels natural. These movies simply know what they're doing. They retain the spirit and the humane reassurance of the source material. Come late 2018, I suspect this is one sequel that will hold up particularly well in the rearview mirror.

MPAA rating: PG (for some action and mild rude humor).

Running time: 1:43.

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