“Paddington 2,” sequel to the charming 2015 children’s live-action film featuring a computer-animated, talking bear, lacks some of its predecessor’s spark. But it is so warmhearted and well acted (and animated) that a slight drop-off in quality hardly matters.
The sequel also cements the “Paddington” franchise — based on Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear books — as a new, “Harry Potter”-esque home for top-tier British ensemble casts.
Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”) and Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”) return from the first film as the Browns, who took in Paddington when he arrived in London from Peru. Hawkins, Bonneville and voice actor Ben Whishaw — who makes Paddington sound like the Geico gecko minus the attitude — give the film a strong base of kindness.
These actors all yield the floor to Hugh Grant’s delightful performance as Phoenix Buchanan, a vain thespian who lives near the Browns in London. The glint in Grant’s eye tells us Buchanan believes no one notices when his supposed humility really is humble bragging. And the Browns do not notice, because they are guileless and believe other people are, too.
Grant maintains the same affable yet slyly self-satisfied demeanor even after his character goes mad with greed. Buchanan’s machinations put little Paddington in the path of a criminal bear of a man played by Brendan Gleeson. Grant lets the zestfully cranky Gleeson steal “Paddington 2” for 10 minutes, before taking it back.
A treasure-map story line that might have been fun to follow is introduced and then practically abandoned in favor of a few too many scenes of Paddington getting into mishaps. A bucket falls on his cute head, and a mountain of oranges on his small body — gags sure to please 4-year-olds. But the first “Paddington” appealed to adults as well as children throughout, with its sharp comic dialogue. Here, only Grant and Gleeson get really good lines. The change might be due to director Paul King collaborating this time with a different screenwriter, Simon Farnaby.
Dialogue ceases to matter when “Paddington 2” shows close-ups of its animated bear.
Paddington’s eyes are exceptionally expressive. So are Hawkins’, and a soulful moment between actress and bear evokes “Shape of Water” while melting hearts in its own right.