16th March 2018
Feature adaptation of Beatrix Potter's classic tale of a rebellious rabbit trying to sneak into a farmer's vegetable garden.
James Corden, Fayssal Bazzi, Domhnall Gleeson
Following on from their releases of The Smurfs and Goosebumps, Sony’s Animation arm continues their bastardization of franchises aimed at young children with their unnecessarily contemporary take on Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit.
After suffering a mental breakdown at work, an over-stressed man named Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) takes his boss’ advice and escapes to the country for a few weeks. The recent death of his uncle opens the opportunity to stay in his now-unoccupied countryside cottage, where he meets artist Bea (Rose Byrne) who lives close by. But the tranquillity and budding romance are soon disrupted by a psychotic bunny going by the name of Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden) and his maniacal gang of furry followers. McGregor must use all his wits if he is to survive his time away from the city – and the bloodthirsty Peter will stop at nothing until Thomas is pushing up daisies.
First appearing in The Tale of Peter Rabbit published in 1902, the blue-jacketed bunny continues to entertain young children in book form thanks to the endearing illustrations and good-natured shenanigans of Peter and his friends. Will Gluck’s 2018 hip update removes any trace of the original Peter and replaces it with a complete imposter who has simply stolen the identity and jacket of Potter’s timeless creation.
The first issue comes right from the bunny’s mouth: the decision to have British talk show host and TV personality James Corden voice Peter is bad enough, but Corden does absolutely nothing to add anything to the character and instead opts to be his hyperactive, motormouth self – resulting in an insufferably arrogant lead that has likeability factor of zero.
The fundamental nature of Peter’s personality has been removed too and instead, there’s now a homicidal psychopath who premeditates the attempted murder an innocent homeowner. Even worse, he seems genuinely upset that his plans don’t work and relentlessly pursues other methods to straight up kill McGregor, and gleefully boasts about killing his uncle (played by an unrecognizable Sam Neill, who appears for about a minute). When his plans don’t work he manipulates Rose, who has taken in the bunnies thinking they’re harmless, with the old big-eyed, floppy-eared look and lets McGregor take the fall, jeopardizing his blossoming relationship because he selfishly wants Rose to himself. He’s a nasty piece of work, for sure.
You may recall the controversy behind a scene in Peter Rabbit where McGregor, who is allergic to blackberries, is bombarded with the fruit in one of the many heinous attacks by the criminal critters. Like many others, I laughed off the ridiculous accusation against the film. In context, however, it’s one that should be taken seriously, especially since the scene is preceded by Peter claiming that most people probably lie about their allergies anyway. The blasé approach to ignoring serious medical conditions is not only a dangerous message to be included in a family movie, but should be condemned for its inclusion merely for a cheap laugh – something which it fails to do anyway.
I just don’t get which audience writers Rob Lieber and Gluck were going for here. The film is nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is with its fourth wall breaking moments or seemingly ad-libbed sections from Corden, but it is an assuredly mean-spirited picture which doesn’t give enough reason to root for the intended titular protagonist. If McGregor was a prize game hunter who revelled in mounting the heads of endangered species above the fireplace then sure, he deserves his comeuppance.
But from what I gathered he’s ambitious, hardworking and dedicated to his department store job where he doesn’t feel appreciated. The vegetable patch that Peter so desperately wants in on is entirely the property of McGregor and he’s completely within his rights to keep them away. I know I sound like I’m overanalysing a children’s film, but as I said this version is an utter travesty to its source material.
Ironically, it’s the novel origins of the Peter Rabbit franchise which give the 2018 version one of its few positives. A brief backstory to Peter’s upbringing is animated in the style of the old drawings and is beautiful to watch. Also, McGregor’s neighbour Bea is an artist and her artwork pieces are those seen in the original books, which is a welcome touch. Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson have great chemistry together too when they’re not being tormented by wildlife. The animation for the rest of the film deserves credit too and it’s clear that Sony Animation is making great leaps forward in their techniques.
As for the rest of the critters, they’re largely relegated to a simple characteristic or trait which, again, is something explicitly explained to us by Peter in further bids to be meta. The list of voice artists involved may be impressive with the likes of upcoming talent such as Daisy Ridley and Margot Robbie present, but that’s all they are: names to sell the movie. Their vocal work doesn’t get enough screen time to call it anything other than that.
Peter Rabbit didn’t need a modern overhaul. Its charm lies in its innocence and simplicity and it’s still very much a staple of British culture as youngsters discover the mischievous adventures of him and his friends. Paddington knew this, and as such its recent cinematic escapades are widely regarded as some of the best family movies in decades.
To take such a revered figure and diminish it to this insulting incarnation is reprehensible and I highly recommend for parents to stick with Beatrix Potter’s enduring books instead of subjecting their young hoppers to this con artist.
The character animation is impressive
A few moments where the old illustrations make an appearance
Gleeson and Byrne have good chemistry
Complete overhaul of the character turns him into a totally unlikable lead
Wrong messages sent to children
Desecration of a staple of British culture