THE NEXT time someone tells you sequels are never as good as the original, urge them to watch Paddington 2.
Set a high standard by the CGI bear’s first outing in 2012, the second instalment builds on what made that film so much fun and learns from its admittedly few mistakes.
An impressive cast featuring famous faces right down to the extras (Hello, Lenny Henry!) joins the cuddly duffel-coated chap on a caper as charming and comic as the little bear himself.
The plot revolves around the theft of a pop-up book of London by Hugh Grant’s ageing, deluded luvvie — a crime for which Paddington is wrongly imprisoned in a grim, Victorian-style jail — and his family’s desperate quest to solve them mystery and recover the treasured artefact.
The scenes with Nicole Kidman’s crazed naturalist dragged the momentum of the first film to a halt, diverting the action from Paddington and his antics, which were much funnier.
But this time around, Grant’s Phoenix Buchanan is a joy in his own right, where slipping between accents as he addresses the variously-costumed mannequins in his attic or in full-on caddish villain form during a breath-taking, frantic finale.
Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville are in fine form as the Browns, Paddington’s “parents”, and there are bigger parts to play for brother and sister Jonathan and Judy (Samuel Joslin and Madeleine Harris).
Brendan Gleeson has a ball as the grumpy, grizzled prison chef won over by Paddington’s way with a panful of marmalade and the welcome wealth of veteran acting talent which peppered part one (Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters among them) is joined by the likes of Jessica Hynes, Tom Conti, Joanna Lumley and Noah Taylor.
Paddington is a wonderful hero, combining charm, calamity and never-say-die spirit to great efforts.
Such is the depth of his character and the seamless way he interacts with his environment and cast-mates that its easy to forget this is a CGI figure.
This is in no small part down to Ben Whishaw, who once again brings brilliant comic timing and a range of emotion to his critical voice part.
Paddington 2 looks great, is full of ingenious production touches and includes nods to the like of Wallace and Gromit, James Bond and even The Untouchables.
Revealing too much would spoil the delight but it’s safe to say the film rattles along like the clappers, features a string of set pieces worthy of the biggest action blockbuster and most importantly of all, is extremely funny.
I can see it being a staple in the Christmas schedules for years to come.
Book your ticket to Paddington 2 now — it truly is a first-class experience.