"Paddington 2" is charming

A still from Paddington 2

A still from Paddington 2

The light and frothy story this time revolves around the cuddly Paddington (the voice of Ben Wishaw, who's delightful) as he settles into domestic bliss living with his adoptive London family. One night Paddington notices a unusual man breaking into the antique store that houses the coveted pop-up book, attempts to stop it and wrongly ends up in prison. The film's plot provides a series of amusing set pieces for Paddington to get into insane antics, as he injects a dose of propriety into the dank prison culture by teaching a crusty chef named Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson) to make marmalade sandwiches.

The key to 2014's winsome Paddington and now its sequel, Paddington 2, is the interaction between real human actors in a live-action feature and an irresistible CGI bear. The main culprit? Why, it's a hilariously hammy actor played by Hugh Grant. It gives me huge pleasure to say that if you were anxious Paddington 2 would fail to repeat that feat, you're absolutely wrong. A feature-length film needs three acts of plot and, to that end, this franchise has introduced villains to Paddington's universe. Yet director Paul King (The Mighty Boosh) and co-writer Hamish McColl held steadfast to the spirit of common decency that anchored the books, and the result was a real charmer, a modern storybook fable that made the Ben Whishaw-voiced bear a hero to young and old.

Ditching the tie for the more casual event, Hugh posed alongside Melissa, Denise, and their kids as he promoted the kids film.

This is where the movie hits its stride.

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Paddington 2 is also a joy to watch purely from an aesthetic perspective. With Paddington's origin story off the filmmakers' backs, adventure gets more room to unfold. The verbal jokes (every newspaper headline we see contains a clever bit) fold easily into the visual tone (director King's staging and framing treats the action as a series of storybook pop-up moments, carefully composed but fleet-footed).

Having won over the hearts and minds of the Brown family in his status somewhere between "foster son" and "family dog", Paddington is now a town fixture.

Those who already know about Paddington, the plucky little Peruvian bear who moved to London with flawless British manners already in place, here's a delicious second helping.

Most conversations involving Sally Hawkins these days will understandably revolve around her mesmerizing, almost wordless performance in the acclaimed drama "The Shape of Water", which in all likelihood will land the veteran British actress her first Best Actress Oscar nomination.

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At the same time Paddington is in prison, his adopted family (led by Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville) try to clear their bear's good name and get him back home. Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Sally Hawkins, an Julie Walters co-star. All of which makes him most welcome. The glint in Grant's eye tells us Buchanan believes no one notices when his supposed humility really is humble bragging.

Paddington 2 is not only as warmhearted and well-crafted as its predecessor, it's the rare sequel that improves on the first installment.

Now playing: Opens nationwide on Friday, Jan. 12. It is 104 minutes long and is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor. This is a tough balance to pull off - contrast this film to Frank Darabont's The Majestic where the sweetness of the characters makes you want to claw your nails on their faces.

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