Sequels to children’s movies are rarely good for a variety of reasons, but the first Paddington was so well received that critical and fan hopes were high that the second film would manage to avoid the usual pitfalls. Thankfully Paddington 2 lives up to those standards and rises above the average sequel. From the acting to the art design to the story, it meets the bar set by the original without sacrificing its family-friendly status or lowering its comedic standards.

Paddington 2 picks up shortly after the first film left off, as Paddington (Ben Whishaw) has settled into a routine with the Brown family and their neighborhood. His sunny disposition and helpful ways have earned him many friends, and from the newspaper seller to the local doctor, he has been a positive addition to the community. It seems like things are perfect, but as Aunt Lucy’s (Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday approaches, Paddington begins to worry he will never find the right present for the bear who raised him from a cub. When the kindly antique dealer Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent) shows Paddington a handmade one-of-a-kind pop-up book depicting all the landmarks of London, the little bear decides it’s just the thing for his Aunt, despite its steep price tag. To earn the money Paddington takes on odd jobs, resulting in adorable-and very British-hijinks that are some of the best comedic scenes in the movie.

When Paddington tells his neighbor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a flamboyantly thespian actor who is desperate for an infusion of cash, about the pop-up book he unknowingly sets off a terrible chain of events. Phoenix happens to know a marvelous secret about the book’s contents that could lead to a fabulous treasure. Just before Paddington can buy the book, a disguised Phoenix steals it from the antique shop and in the process, incriminates Paddington.  Sentenced to ten years for theft, Paddington finds himself locked in prison with hardened criminals and only the Browns’ sleuthing skills will be able to help him.

Paddington 2 is a gorgeous visual treat, as it expands on the previous film’s art style by including elegant pencil animations, and the CGI character work is even more convincing than the first go around. The film’s dedication to creating a bright and colorful world helps create a charming atmosphere and complements the story’s light tone. Composer Dario Marianelli is a new addition to this film and his beautiful score flows through the scenes and heightens the emotional and comedic beats. The backgrounds and sets are detailed with a (dare I say it) almost steampunk edge to the design that gives Paddington’s world a hint of magic.

Most of the original cast returned for Paddington 2, but they spend much of the film in the background, with the exception of Mrs. Brown (Sally Hawkins), who is given a bigger role in this film than the last. Hawkins steps up to the challenge and fairly glows with determined hope as she gives her performance. Ben Whishaw is great as Paddington, using vocal nuances to give the animated character a sense of reality and warmth. Hugh Grant is playing up his campy side and while many of his theater references will go over the younger audiences’ heads, his outlandish physical comedy will not.

Paddington 2 has the same tone and feel of the first film, but it explores a completely different style of story and includes plenty of fun new characters to keep it fresh. At times the convoluted plot seems to veer off into the wild blue yonder, but it is still enjoyable for all the silly detours. The art style is more distinctive than in the last film and the whimsical design ties everything together. There is a lot to enjoy about Paddington 2, and fans of the first film are likely to be enchanted with what it has to offer.