To love “Paddington 2,” hitting theaters on Friday, you don’t need to have seen its 2014 predecessor, “Paddington” (I haven’t), or read any of author Michael Bond’s “Paddington Bear” books (also haven’t). All you need is a sense of fun and a willingness to give yourself over to Paddington’s sweet, generous view of the world.
There’s a thrilling opening sequence which sets up the little spectacled-bear cub’s adoption in Peru by his Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo (also spectacled bears). The story then hops to the future, where Paddington (voice by Ben Whishaw) lives in West London with the Brown family — headed by “Downton Abbey” star Hugh Bonneville, and “The Shape of Water” star Sally Hawkins — which adopted him after finding him in the Paddington railway station.
Uncle Pastuzo has since gone to his final reward, and Aunt Lucy (voice by Imelda Staunton) is approaching her 100th birthday. Determined to buy her a vintage pop-up book of London landmarks as a present, Paddington takes on a series of odd jobs, with hilarious results.
The little bear — dressed in a duffle coat, boots and a hat — is the beating heart of his diverse London neighborhood, where all know him and (almost) all love him. He’s charming, kind, optimistic and unfailingly polite. Unknown to him, though, faded star actor Phoenix Buchanan (played an effortlessly hilarious Hugh Grant) has designs of his own on the book, which contains clues to a lost treasure. He purloins it, leaving Paddington to be blamed and sent off to jail.
Not even prison dampens Paddington’s spirits, as he uses his good nature and skill at making marmalade sandwiches to transform a motley crew of soft-hearted convicts into the Big House version of “The Great British Baking Show.”
As the Browns struggle to clear Paddington’s name, the crooks, along with baking, are also cooking up a jailbreak.
There are even touches of faith, with St. Paul’s Cathedral and some nuns figuring briefly into the plot.
The animated Paddington is seamlessly integrated into the live-action movie, which is a visual delight — without feeling overstuffed or breathless, as some animated films do today. There’s a lot of verbal humor (which is good for adults), so very little ones may not be able to follow it all, but they’ll love watching a teddy bear come to life.
I know I did.
Here’s a peek:
Image: Courtesy Warner Bros.