Paddington sequel a very bearable family movie
By Jim Bray
If you decry the lack of quality family entertainment these days, you really should fire up a copy of the new Blu-ray release of Paddington 2, from Warner Brothers.
Paddington is an animated bear who I understand is a staple of British culture via a series of books I never read. Heck, I never saw the first Paddington movie from 2014, either, and never really felt the urge to. Then Warner Home Video sent me the new Blu-ray of the sequel and I put it on hoping it might be something I could watch with my grandsons.
And boy, is it ever! I enjoyed Paddington 2 so much that I'm going to seek out the original flick as well because, well, sequels as a rule are generally not as good as the original (in my experience), and so all things being equal I should enjoy the original even more than this sequel.
Watch that blow up in my face!
Anyway, Paddington is a recue bear – rescued initially by a pair of adult bears just before he and the log on which he's hanging get swept over a huge waterfall in South America (do they really have bears there?). Action then picks up in "present day", with the little bear now settled happily in London with the Brown family, where he has carved out a niche and become a very popular member of the local folks - spreading, as Warners' PR stuff says "joy and marmalade wherever he goes".
The concept is ridiculous, but it works because even though he's a bear – and everyone else in the film knows he's a bear – it doesn't seem to bother most people that he's a bear. It almost seems as if a talking wild animal living with a suburban family is, if not completely normal, at least not an inconceivable development in modern day London. It doesn't hurt that Paddington is done via CG very well and the veteran actors surrounding him interact with him as if he's really there.
Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw, who you may remember as Q from the past couple of Bond films) is a really nice bear, who always looks for the best in everyone – even (as we find later in the film) convicted criminals.
The hook here is that he's searching for the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) on the occasion of her 100th birthday, which I assume is "Bear Years". Anyway, Paddington finds a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber's (Jim Broadbent) antique shop, but he can't afford it and therefore starts doing odd jobs (such as window washing, using his fur as his own type of Loofah mitt) to earn enough money to buy it.
Ah, but as it turns out that book isn't just your garden (or zoo) variety pop-up book, and there's someone else who wants it very badly. This leads to the book being stolen, Paddington being framed, and upon conviction he's sent to prison to serve time.
This leads the bear and his new little convict friends, as well as the Brown family, to pull out all the stops to find the real culprit so Paddington can resume his lovely little life with the Browns.
This bit of description doesn't do the story justice – mostly because I don't want to spoil this lovely little ditty for you – and along the way toward the closing credits we get some wonderful scenes, decent action, quite a few chuckles (and a couple of big laughs) and what is in fact a genuine "feel good movie" the family can enjoy together. No cussin', no nudity (okay, so it isn't perfect…) and nothing I wouldn't want my four-year-old grandson to see (though he may still be a bit young – due to his attention span, not due to anything adult in the movie).
And what a cast of well-known Brits! Besides the above-mentioned thespians, we get to see Hugh Bonneville (the Grantham patriarch from Downton Abbey), Hugh Grant in a nice change of pace performance, Julie Walters, Joanna Lumley (who will be forever, to me, Purdy from the New Avengers), Tom Conti, and even ex-Doctor Who Peter Capaldi. And more…
The film looks great, with bright and rich colours and a superb musical score. And there's so much neat stuff around the edges (such as newspaper headlines) that it probably requires multiple viewings to get them all. And I loved how the pop-up book is used as "sets" in a fantasy sequence where Paddington and his aunt are sampling the sights of London. There are also some really nifty camera angles and shots in this very well-crafted film.
Director/co-writer Paul King, who also helmed the first Paddington outing, has done a great job here of making a kid-friendly film that won't cause adults to nod off, or hurl. The movie feels like a labour of love from both cast and crew and this translates clearly to the screen.
While I try to keep my current reviews to 4K discs, Warners sent the Paddington 2 Blu-ray (which also includes a DVD and digital download code) and it looks really good anyway (it doesn't appear there is a 4K version available in North America right now). The 1080p picture, at 2.41:1 aspect ratio, is bright and sharp and clean – and it up converts to 4K very well if you have the capability – with good black levels that make the picture nearly pop off the screen.
Audio is presented in Dolby Atmos that's backwards compatible to Dolby TrueHD. The audio is very good, with nice and clean dialogue and good low frequency effects when required. I didn't notice a huge amount of surround during most of the movie, but that doesn't prevent the overall sound quality from being very involving and listenable. Heck, this movie would work in mono!
Extras include a music video with "Phoenix Buchanan" (Hugh Grant's "washed up actor" character) that's really just a repeat of a closing credits bonus. You also get several short featurettes that are quite entertaining. "Paddington: the bear truth" gives some nice insight into the production while "How to make a marmalade sandwich" is, alas, just what it says. "The magical mystery of Paddington's pop-up book" is a neat look at the scene in which Paddington and his aunt visit London, as portrayed in the book. "The Browns and Paddington: The Special Bond", "Knuckles: A Fistful of Marmalade", "the (once) Famous Faces of Phoenix Buchanan" are all interesting and mostly self-explanatory, and there's even a commentary track featuring director/co-scribe King as well.
Paddington 2 obviously won't go down in history as a film of the enduring calibre of a Casablanca, but not every movie has to. Instead, it's a fun adventure populated with likeable characters (even the baddies aren't very bad once you get to know them), a wonderful film that families can watch together without being grossed out, pandered to, or indoctrinated.
I call that a winner. And I'm going to watch it again, with my grandson next time. I hope (though wouldn't bet on) he can sit still for 104 minutes!
Copyright 2018 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.