by Leigh Paatsch
THE 2014 adaptation of Michael Bond's wonderful Paddington books performed a minor miracle.
Not only did the filmmakers capture the refined and infinitely lovable spirit of everyone's favourite marmalade-addicted Peruvian bear.
They also crafted one of the finest family movies of the modern era.
The good news on the sequel is that one good minor miracle deserves another: Paddington 2 is the equal of its predecessor, not allowing standards to slip anywhere.
A fantastic effort when you consider little Paddington (voiced with pitch-perfect politeness by Ben Whishaw) spends a fair whack of the flick doing jail time with some highly unsavoury types. More about that later.
In the meantime, the first act of Paddington 2 is all about catching up with our diminutive hero, and finding out what he has been doing in the three years since we saw him last.
Paddington is now very much at home in inner suburban London, and has even gone as far as to join the workforce to earn his keep.
This revelation triggers two inspired comic sequences - outlining Paddington's short-lived careers as a barber and a high-rise window washer - which only serve to remind viewers what a special franchise we have on our hands here.
Though young kids are bound to howl with laughter at the slapsticky high-jinks of the bear bungling his employment prospects big-time, what really impresses and holds the eye of older viewers is how cleverly and intricately designed these scenes are.
Once the main plot comes into play, little Padds gets framed for robbery by a nefarious actor-turned-crook (Hugh Grant). So it is up to his good friends the Brown family (Sally Hawkins is a standout as the mum) to clear his name.
Meanwhile, Paddington becomes best buds with the meanest bloke in the slammer, Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), an diligently sets about raising moral by reforming the menu in the prison cafeteria.
If director Wes Anderson ever joined forces with Pixar on a live-action project, the final result would probably look a lot like the best sections of Paddington 2.
Therefore British filmmaker Paul King deserves a lot of the credit for the excellence achieved here. With two classic Paddington movies now under his belt, King is a big-ticket talent to keep tabs on.
A complete all-ages delight.
Paddington 2 opens in cinemas on Thursday.
Stars: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor.
Director: Paul King
Verdict: 4/5 stars