Paddington 2 (PG)

Four stars

Dir: Paul King

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With: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins

Runtime: 103 minutes

SOME films just don’t fight fair. Take Paddington 2. Not content with having a hero who already makes the Andrex puppy look like T-Rex with toothache, this sequel to the 2014 hit opens with a flashback to the furry one as a wide-eyed cub being rescued from the jaws of doom. How is a cynical old film critic meant to recover from such a low blow to the emotional gut?

Then again, surrendering to the charms of Paddington early on simply saves time. If you didn’t lose your heart to the little bear first time around, and you are indeed possessed of such an organ, prepare to surrender it now. Paddington 2 is so charming, indeed, it could even make journalists love Hugh Grant again. So put that in your press regulation pipe and smoke it.

When last we left Michael Bond’s creation he had done the whole Peru to London stowaway thing and had been taken in by the Brown family (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as mum and dad, and Julie Walters as the Scots housekeeper who helps look after the couple’s two children). Nowadays, Paddington is in with the bricks in Windsor Gardens. Everyone loves him, save for Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi), the street’s official grump, who one suspects does not like Paddington because he is a foreigner. If a film could vote, Paddington 2 would be a solid Remain.

The only hint of a cloud on Paddington’s horizon is finding Aunt Lucy, the cub-rescuer herself, the perfect birthday present. As luck would have it he comes across just such a thing: a pop-up book of London. All he needs now is to find a job and save up. Easy. As Aunt Lucy always told him: “If we’re kind and polite the world will go right.”

Lucy, alas, turns out not to have read the small print. The world does not always go right for young bears. Enter, stage left, Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a resting actor hammier than a bacon factory. Believing the secrets contained in the pop-up book will help resurrect his career, Buchanan resolves to get his paws on it before Paddington.

Grant, and I’m not saying this through gritted teeth, greally armm nort, is an absolute hoot as the fading thespian. He is so up for sending himself up his character’s home is plastered with Grant’s own headshots of old, many from his floppy-haired Four Weddings and a Funeral days. With comic timing straight from Greenwich, he comes close to stealing the picture.

He might have done it, too, if director Paul King did not have a way with tragedy that would give Chaplin’s Little Tramp a run for his money. Yes, that’s right, tragedy. We know the helmer of The Mighty Boosh can do wonderfully silly comedy. We know from the first Paddington that he has an eye for dreamy scenes that sprinkle magic over the mundane. But what do you know, he can do heartfelt drama as well. Poor Paddington is about to be done up like a kipper for a crime he did not commit, and we will feel his pain.

All credit, too, to Ben Whishaw, who gives voice to Paddington and makes him sound like a blend of young innocent and old soul. And kudos to the special effects department for making the computer-animated Paddington look so alive, kicking, and eminently strokable. Joyous, gorgeously realised, and laugh out loud funny, the bear has done it again. Marmalade sandwiches all round.

If Paddington is at one end of the spectrum in its sunlit view of childhood, consider The Florida Project (15) (three stars) to be at the other. Sean Baker’s drama is set in a rundown hotel that no tourist to the sunshine state and Disney World would ever want to stay in, but it is home to six-year-old Moonee and her mother Halley. With the help of long-suffering manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the little family is just about managing, for now. Baggy and overlong, Baker’s self-consciously indy film tests the patience at times, but its heart is in the right place and its gaze into the eyes of America’s have nots is steady, true, and compassionate.