PLOT A well-mannered London bear is wrongfully convicted of robbery.
CAST Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant
RATED PG (mild peril)
BOTTOM LINE A terrific kids’ film with smarts and heart, not to mention a show-stealing Grant as the villain. Charming from start to finish.
Paddington, the well-mannered little bear named after the London train station where he’s found, made his big-screen debut in 2014, more than 50 years after he first appeared in a children’s book by Michael Bond. It’s a mystery as to what took so long — perhaps the advances in computer technology finally made a live/animation hybrid movie possible — but at any rate “Paddington” was a pleasant surprise, a sunny little family film with the endearing voice of Ben Whishaw as our hero and a terrific Nicole Kidman as an evil taxidermist. Released in dreary January, though, it never quite found its audience.
Now comes “Paddington 2,” an even better movie that deserves a better fate. Maybe moviegoers will be intrigued by Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”), who returns as Paddington’s adoptive mother, Mrs. Brown. Maybe the much-improved bear animation will pull in viewers. The film’s real selling point, though, is once again its villain, this time played by an irresistible Hugh Grant. Add in a whimsical storyline and an overall air of British charm, and “Paddington 2” has the potential to become a family classic.
Directed and co-written by Paul King (of the off-kilter British comedy series “The Mighty Boosh”), “Paddington 2” throws its affable hero into the least likely place: prison. Wrongly convicted of robbing an antiques shop, Paddington is sentenced to an astounding 20 years alongside some of the country’s most hardened criminals. While Paddington gets used to bedtime with no story, Mrs. Brown and her family search for the real thief. (Hugh Bonneville returns as Mr. Brown, while the now-older Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin again play the children.)
Grant essentially steals this whole movie as the thief, an egotistic, washed-up actor named Phoenix Buchanan. (He and Paddington coveted the same curio in that shop, a pop-up book that clearly has more than aesthetic value.) Grant shines almost as brightly here as he did in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” finding the perfect mix of nastiness and harmlessness that makes for a great kiddie villain. Another bright spot here is Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles McGinty, an irascible jailhouse cook whose heart is softened by Paddington’s famous marmalade sandwiches.
All in all, “Paddington 2” has a warmth and wit that’s missing from many a children’s movie. Don’t let your January go by without it.