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If you decry the lack of quality family
entertainment these days, you really should fire up a copy of the new Blu-ray
release of Paddington 2, from Warner Brothers.
Paddington is an animated bear who I understand
is a staple of British culture via a series of books I never read. Heck, I
never saw the first Paddington movie from 2014, either, and never really felt
the urge to. Then Warner Home Video sent me the new Blu-ray of the sequel and I
put it on hoping it might be something I could watch with my grandsons.
And boy, is it ever! I enjoyed Paddington 2 so
much that I'm going to seek out the original flick as well because, well,
sequels as a rule are generally not as good as the original (in my experience),
and so all things being equal I should enjoy the original even more than this
blow up in my face!
Anyway, Paddington is a recue bear – rescued initially
by a pair of adult bears just before he and the log on which he's hanging get
swept over a huge waterfall in South America (do they really have bears there?).
Action then picks up in "present day", with the little bear now settled
happily in London with the Brown family, where he has carved out a niche and
become a very popular member of the local folks - spreading, as Warners' PR
stuff says "joy and marmalade wherever he goes".
The concept is ridiculous, but it works because
even though he's a bear – and everyone else in the film knows he's a bear – it
doesn't seem to bother most people that he's a bear. It almost seems as if a
talking wild animal living with a suburban family is, if not completely normal,
at least not an inconceivable development in modern day London. It doesn't hurt
that Paddington is done via CG very well and the veteran actors surrounding him
interact with him as if he's really there.
Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw, who you may
remember as Q from the past couple of Bond films) is a really nice bear, who
always looks for the best in everyone – even (as we find later in the film)
The hook here is that he's searching for the
perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) on the occasion
of her 100th birthday, which I assume is "Bear Years". Anyway, Paddington
finds a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber's (Jim Broadbent) antique shop, but he
can't afford it and therefore starts doing odd jobs (such as window washing,
using his fur as his own type of Loofah mitt) to earn enough money to buy it.
Ah, but as it turns out that book isn't just
your garden (or zoo) variety pop-up book, and there's someone else who wants it
very badly. This leads to the book being stolen, Paddington being framed, and
upon conviction he's sent to prison to serve time.
This leads the bear and his new little convict
friends, as well as the Brown family, to pull out all the stops to find the
real culprit so Paddington can resume his lovely little life with the Browns.
This bit of description doesn't do the story
justice – mostly because I don't want to spoil this lovely little ditty for you
– and along the way toward the closing credits we get some wonderful scenes,
decent action, quite a few chuckles (and a couple of big laughs) and what is in
fact a genuine "feel good movie" the family can enjoy together. No
cussin', no nudity (okay, so it isn't perfect…) and nothing I wouldn't want my four-year-old
grandson to see (though he may still be a bit young – due to his attention
span, not due to anything adult in the movie).
And what a cast of well-known Brits! Besides
the above-mentioned thespians, we get to see Hugh Bonneville (the Grantham
patriarch from Downton Abbey), Hugh Grant in a nice change of pace performance,
Julie Walters, Joanna Lumley (who will be forever, to me, Purdy from the New
Avengers), Tom Conti, and even ex-Doctor Who Peter Capaldi. And more…
The film looks great, with bright and rich colours
and a superb musical score. And there's so much neat stuff around the edges
(such as newspaper headlines) that it probably requires multiple viewings to
get them all. And I loved how the pop-up book is used as "sets" in a
fantasy sequence where Paddington and his aunt are sampling the sights of
London. There are also some really nifty camera angles and shots in this very
Director/co-writer Paul King, who also helmed
the first Paddington outing, has done a great job here of making a kid-friendly
film that won't cause adults to nod off, or hurl. The movie feels like a labour
of love from both cast and crew and this translates clearly to the screen.
While I try to keep my current reviews to 4K
discs, Warners sent the Paddington 2 Blu-ray (which also includes a DVD and
digital download code) and it looks really good anyway (it doesn't appear there
is a 4K version available in North America right now). The 1080p picture, at
2.41:1 aspect ratio, is bright and sharp and clean – and it up converts to 4K
very well if you have the capability – with good black levels that make the
picture nearly pop off the screen.
Audio is presented in Dolby Atmos that's
backwards compatible to Dolby TrueHD. The audio is very good, with nice and
clean dialogue and good low frequency effects when required. I didn't notice a
huge amount of surround during most of the movie, but that doesn't prevent the
overall sound quality from being very involving and listenable. Heck, this
movie would work in mono!
Extras include a music video with "Phoenix
Buchanan" (Hugh Grant's "washed up actor" character) that's
really just a repeat of a closing credits bonus. You also get several short
featurettes that are quite entertaining. "Paddington: the bear truth"
gives some nice insight into the production while "How to make a marmalade
sandwich" is, alas, just what it says. "The magical mystery of
Paddington's pop-up book" is a neat look at the scene in which Paddington
and his aunt visit London, as portrayed in the book. "The Browns and
Paddington: The Special Bond", "Knuckles: A Fistful of Marmalade",
"the (once) Famous Faces of Phoenix Buchanan" are all interesting and
mostly self-explanatory, and there's even a commentary track featuring
director/co-scribe King as well.
Paddington 2 obviously won't go down in history
as a film of the enduring calibre of a Casablanca, but not every movie has to. Instead,
it's a fun adventure populated with likeable characters (even the baddies
aren't very bad once you get to know them), a wonderful film that families can
watch together without being grossed out, pandered to, or indoctrinated.
I call that a winner. And I'm going to watch it
again, with my grandson next time. I hope (though wouldn't bet on) he can sit
still for 104 minutes!