Paddington 2 is the safest, most satisfying kind of sequel.Β  If you liked 2014's Paddington - and if you didn't, you should know that I am instantly a little bit suspicious of you - you will almost certainly like Paddington 2, because it is almost entirely the same movie. The biggest single difference is that Nicole Kidman's mad taxidermist has been replaced Hugh Grant's egocentric has-been actor in the villain role, and I have very little hesitation in declaring this to be an overall trade down, both because taxidermists are rarer in movies than has-been actors, and because all things being equal, I will always pick Kidman over very nearly everybody else. Though Grant does right by the movie, playing a kid-friendly melodramatic ham with unembarrassed bravado and having a field day with the several wacky accents his character gets to put on during his villainous plot.

Otherwise, it's the same-old, same-old, and given that Paddington was among the most pleasant, generous, and humane live-action children's movies of the current century, "same-old" is much more of a benefit than otherwise. Once again, we find the young bear Paddington Brown (voiced by Ben Whishaw), living with his kind human foster family in a nice neighborhood full of many fine and wonderful people from a variety of backgrounds, and once again he ends up getting into ridiculous situations that he softly defuses through his conviction that treating people decently in all situations is the best way to get them to do the same to you. This time around, Paddington has set his eye on a beautiful antique pop-up book that he'd like to buy for his Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) for her 100th birthday. Phoenix Buchanan (Grant) has been looking for the same book, for very different reasons: he believes that the book includes a coded map that leads to where the great Madame Kozlova, a long-dead acrobat and amusement park impresario, hid her fortune in jewels. With that fortune, Buchanan plans to finance the gaudy one-man show that will put him back in the limelight, and all it takes is stealing the book and framing Paddington. The bear ends up in prison, where he charms the brutish cook Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), and turns the entire ward into a peaceful land of flowers, companionship, and soft pink prisoners' uniforms. Meanwhile, the Browns - Mary (Sally Hawkins), Henry (Hugh Bonneville), their children Judy (Madeline Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), and housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters) - are pulling out all the stops to find the strange gang that seems to be responsible for the theft, not suspecting that the whole gang is just their down-the-street neighbor Buchanan in host of costumes from his acting days.

It's a little more labored than the plot of the first Paddington, but not so much that it gets in the way of the most important parts of the movie: the light absurdity of the humor, and the very pleasant lessons that Paddington teaches everybody he crosses paths with, typically without doing so on purpose. And also watching the very impressive cast having a good time playing the dry magical realism of this universe and not needing to take themselves very seriously (besides Gleeson and Grant, this film introduces Eileen Atkins to the series, in a one-scene cameo). One particularly charming moment has Walters gravely, angrily declaring that all actors are pure evil, cutting to a reaction shot of Hawkins nodding with equally grave awe; and you can just tell from everything about her face and voice that Walters thought that was just a hell of a fun thing to do. Nothing is surprising here, not really - Gleeson plays his part very well, but it's a part that practically comes with instructions for how to perform it inked on, and Grant's fun work as a bad actor is pretty much exactly what any mostly talented movie star would do given the same prompt (in fact, it more than slightly calls to mind Vincent Price's performance as a very similar character in Theatre of Blood) - but everybody is in such obvious good spirits that it's hard to see what more one could possibly demand of them.

Director Paul King, returning from the last movie, plays around with style a bit more than before; once again, the dominant vibe is "Wes Anderson for children", particularly thanks to the ample use of centered framing and direct address, but there's a bit more flair than before. There are some very fun, fanciful long takes, one of them dropping Paddington and Aunt Lucy into the world of the pop-up book in a fantasy sequence; another folds a time-lapse cooking sequence into a circular tracking shot, punctuated by concrete beams breaking up the image. There's just enough of this particularly elaborate, showy camerawork that it places the whole movie under an aura of kinetic, fluid filmmaking; it invites us to think of the film's universe as a series of colorfully-designed spaces to explore and meander through.

It's a fun, open aesthetic, and it fits well with the brightness of the story and characters. Basically, even more than the first movie, Paddington 2 is playtime: the fancy and colorful sets designed by Gary Williamson and the picture-book costumes by Lindy Hemming, the giddy acting, the floating camerawork executed nimbly by cinematographer Erik Wilson, and the carnivalesque music composed by Dario Marianelli are all facing in exactly the same direction, one designed to be as cheerful and uplifting as possible. And with that mood in place, the movie is perfectly placed to make the best of its simple and very good theme about being decent and accepting of other people. Like Paddington before it, Paddington 2 is more comforting than creative, but so warm, fuzzy, and cozy in its comfort that one desperately longs to force it on everybody in earshot.