Paddington 2 avoids almost all of these traps, spinning a lovely yarn with effects that dazzle, slapstick segments that shine and accomplished British thespians who give their all for their digitized co-star.
Phoenix Buchanan, as brought to life by Grant, desperately thrives on validation; he's first seen opening up a local carnival and gets far more pleasure from reminding the mostly adoring crowd of his past than he is of essentially emceeing a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Equally convincing are Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon as Paddington's Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo. Paddington 2 has already earned very positive reviews in the United Kingdom, and it's one of those rare sequels that is actually better than its original, so it's well worth catching it in theaters.
If you're caught up on season two of "The Grand Tour" (Clarkson's follow-up to "Top Gear", with fellow hosts Richard Hammond and James May), Hugh Bonneville guested on the Christmas episode.
Adding to the fun of the film: King makes London a magical place, making such landmarks as St. Paul's Cathedral and London Bridge look like they popped fully formed out of some sort of storybook.
If only all of us could see the world the way Paddington sees London. His plan is to wash windows using his fur along with soap and water, but this goes awry when a thief steals the pop-up book from the store. He certainly seems to be having the time of his life hamming it up in Paddington 2 as a pretentious, has-been actor who's now relegated to dressing up like a spaniel for dog food commercials.
What a pleasant surprise - a sequel that bears up to and perhaps even exceeds the original. Thanks to a bit of bad timing, Paddington gets charged for the theft and winds up in prison. Brown family matriarch Mary (Sally Hawkins) sets about trying to prove her adopted son's innocence. The movie's MVP is Brendan Gleeson, as the gruff yet soft-hearted prison chef with an all-timer name of Knuckles McGinty.
Hugh Grant (Phoenix Buchanan): Well, as a father it keeps them quiet for an hour and a half, that's the number one reason. This book would be the next best thing to actually being able to visit in person. The backgrounds and sets are detailed with a (dare I say it) nearly steampunk edge to the design that gives Paddington's world a hint of magic.
Paddington is based on the best-selling and internationally adored series of children's stories by British author Michael Bond, which have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide, been translated into over 40 languages and captured the imagination of children and adults around the globe.
But the real draw of Paddington and his friends are the warm, cute characters straight out of a bed time story book. The book occasions a marvelous sequence where Paddington envisions leading his aunt through the settings of its pages, little paper cut-out Londoners greeting them around every corner. A feature-length film needs three acts of plot and, to that end, this franchise has introduced villains to Paddington's universe.
Obvious and subtly pointed metaphors for immigration aside, Paddington 2 also shows an exponential leap forward for King as a director. It's enough to make you think he was wasted for decades in stuttering rom-com leads when he has so much more comedic range. His eyes are especially "real" and express all his emotions beautifully. "If we are all kind and polite, the world will be right".
But, don't let this lapse in Clarkson's occasionally questionable judgment stop you from watching "The Grand Tour", or, more importantly, going to see "Paddington 2" - the ideal cure for those post-Christmas blues. But the mix-up still sends Paddington to the joint, a disconcerting fate for those of us who'd assumed this curious but dim-witted bear was legally a minor.