Since his literary debut in 1958, Paddington Bear has remained one of the most beloved children's characters in British culture, with his fame bolstered even more in 2014 when his first big screen adventure was released to global acclaim. Paddington was both a funny and heartfelt family adventure that ranks as one of my favourite ever films, and considering it was just as commercially successful as it was critically praised, a sequel was anything but inevitable.
Now settled in with the Brown family, Paddington Bear (Ben Wishaw) arranges to get a surprise gift for his aunt Lucy's (Imelda Staunton) upcoming 100th birthday: an expensive antique pop-up book featuring all of London's most iconic landmarks. After working and saving hard, his goals are abruptly shattered when the book is stolen by an unknown thief and the blame then landing on Paddington himself, who is locked up in prison as a result. Determined to clear his name, Paddington seeks aid from all those around him to track down the real culprit and ensure he doesn't spend the remainder of his days behind bars; or leave his loving aunt disappointed on such a special occasion.
Just as before, the most noticeable thing at first glance are the effects: Paddington 2 renders and animates the titular star just as beautifully as the original film did, no questions asked. Realism aside, what really deserves acclaim is how much personality is injected into his every movement; you'll certainly never feel like you're staring at CGI, which is an achievement even many films with much higher budgets struggle to nail. He is as loveable as ever, adopting the same polite and generous persona whilst still finding himself tangled up in a number of goofy antics. The film's humour is enjoyable for a widespread family audience, leaving no viewers alienated, and all these perks are supported by another fantastic vocal performance from Ben Wishaw.
The supporting characters remain just as admiring; Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville flawlessly lead the Brown family as they find themselves involved in many funny yet exciting scenarios alongside Paddington himself. Newcomers Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson (among others) are just consistently fun to watch, not just because of their refined performances but also because of the wit and charm of the characters they portray. They're the source of plenty of laughs yet have genuine substance and narrative importance, and this is what makes Paddington 2 such an entertaining story from start to finish.
But this isn't just a film obsessed with comedy, for there is still plenty of emotional depth within its heartwarming narrative. It's never pretentious or overstuffed, and has many scenes that turn out to be wonderfully touching; ones that may even make you think there's some hidden onions near your face. Things also come to an end with a surprisingly gripping climax, though thankfully not one trying to take itself too seriously or shoehorn in any tired Hollywood clichés; if anything it's another moment where the film's impressive visual effects are most evident. All this equates to what is undeniably an even better experience than the original, and that's one hell of accomplishment.