(On Cable TV, November 2018) Sequels aren’t supposed to be better than the original, especially when the first film is already very good, but the Paddington series is something special. Correcting some of the few but glaring missteps of its predecessor, Paddington 2 further develops its characters, boasts of a much-improved villain, and never distances itself from the inspired lunacy of the first film. Much of the credit goes to writer/director Paul King, who once again concocts a complex blend of whimsical writing, good performances and top-notch special effects. The story here is a bit beside the point as much of the sheer joy of Paddington 2 comes from the asides, the execution or the sight gags. Paddington-the-bear himself remains as optimistic a figure as can be imagined, even when wrongly sent to prison. It’s a testament to the film’s innate good-naturedness that even prison proves to be a fun experience in Paddington-world, as his sheer force of optimism managers to transform the environment itself. The world is simply better with Paddington, and that goes for the movie too. Much of the film is like the first one at one exception: a much-better villain, with Hugh Grant playing a washed-up actor for all it’s worth. Grant is clearly having a lot of fun here, and it’s contagious. Better yet is that the villain is matched to the universe of the film—the original Paddington sinned by having a villain that was disturbingly too dark for the setting. Here the tone is more even and just as delightful. Stay for the credits—Paddington 2 holds back one of its best sequences (a musical number!) for the very end. This is one kid’s movie that will charm even the adults.
(In French, Video on Demand, June 2015) Even without being overly familiar with the children-book source material, I can report that Paddington works well as a film: It’s an absolutely charming surprise. Whimsical, sweet, good-natured and visually inventive, it manages to create a contemporary version of a walking-talking teddy bear without coming across as overly sweet or manipulative. It’s a tricky balance, but the film pulls it off. The special effects are good enough that at no time do viewers have any reason to question the existence of Paddington. Ben Whishaw brings a lot to our ursine protagonist through his voice performance, while Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville are instantly likable as the heads of the family that take in Paddington. Nicole Kidman also makes an impression in a fairly rare role as an antagonist, although her evil character sometimes feel out-of-place in an otherwise good-natured film. Writer/director Paul King should get most of the credit for the success of the film, not only for a charming screenplay, but also for visual flights of fancy that establish its unique atmosphere–the flybys through the cutaway Brown family home are a highlight, but several other sequences are executed in a remarkably original fashion. Funny, heartwarming, instantly-accessible and a pure delight, Paddington should please anyone within sight of the screen it’s playing on.