Both 2015's Paddington and now its Paddington 2 sequel embody a kind of extreme empathy. They have their moments of spectacle -- laugh-out-loud sight gags and genuinely exciting set pieces -- but they're also dominated by an overwhelming sense of kindness. They make us yearn to be better humans, and in today's world, that feels downright radical.
Paddington Bear is, of course, one of the U.K.'s most enduring symbols for itself; it's good to be reminded that he also stands for the welcoming of the outsider, the downtrodden, the displaced. In Paddington 2, the emigre bear (again voiced by Ben Whishaw) appears to be the glue holding the Brown family's diverse London neighborhood together, much to the ire of England-firster Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi).
The main plot follows Paddington becoming interested in a rare antique pop-up book about London to send to his Aunt Lucy, stuck back in the jungle, for her birthday. While our ursine hero takes jobs to raise funds, the tome gets stolen by self-obsessed has-been actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), who apparently needs it to find a treasure. What's worse, Paddington is arrested for the theft. His first night behind bars, he asks the guard to read him a bedtime story, the way Mrs. Brown would. The guard refuses -- but never fear, he'll soon be reading nightly tales to all the inmates. The bear's unflappable goodness has a way of transforming everyone around him.
Aside from being a disarming, refreshing wallow in kindness, Paddington 2 also has the benefit of being well-constructed and exceedingly well-performed. Grant takes the part of the shapeshifting and supernaturally narcissistic Buchanan to heavenly extremes, the ham-encrusted jewel in this kindly marvel's marmalade crown.