Never quite realizes its potential.
Peter Rabbit is a kids movie that ticks all the boxes and nails every one of them. However, that strength also turns out to be its biggest weakness.
Directed by Will Gluck, who has previously helmed the weak Annie reboot, the half-decent Friends With Benefits and the excellent Easy A, is behind this family-friendly adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale that goes for a new take on a beloved literary character. A mixture of animation and live-action, Peter Rabbit is a peppy romp that’s bright and breezy and crammed with sass and slapstick as well as tales of rivalry and blossoming romance. That sounds perfect for a family movie, so, where’s the problem?
James Corden voices the titular rebellious rabbit trying to sneak into the vegetable garden of an old farmer, Sam Neill’s Mr. McGregor. Remaining non-specific to avoid a spoiler, but something happens which brings Domhnall Gleeson’s young Thomas McGregor into the picture. Peter’s feud with the McGregor family reaches new heights as he and Thomas compete for the affections of a kind animal lover who lives next door, Rose Byrne’s Bea. If Byrne’s character’s name is an homage to Beatrix Potter, it’ll be interesting to see how that goes down with audiences some of whom will love this interpretation and some of whom will find it almost blasphemous as already known from reactions to the film’s trailer.
These days, family films tend to fall into two groups – ones that aim to be enjoyed by both kids and adults and those that are firmly aimed at kids that adults might also enjoy. Peter Rabbit is very much in the second camp but there’s nothing wrong with that, in principal, but that’s also where the problems begin.
The screening that I went to was a mix of adults with kids and adults without kids. The kids loved it, cackling away, making sad noises where required and generally having a hell of a time for the duration – good luck to the parents and guardians who have to try and calm little ones down after they watch this though. As characters electrocute themselves, break out a trademark line or action, or when someone does something like getting a part of their body caught in a trap, steps on a rake or falls off a roof etc, more of the same hysterics from the younger members of the audience. There are a few decent comedic moments here although after awhile it gets to feel a little repetitive.
Every now and again, Peter Rabbit, or one of the other characters, will say something sassy which almost works more times than it doesn’t – the problem is that when it doesn’t, it’s more annoying than sassy, more obnoxious than cool. In between it all, the humans ham it up, in most cases, laying whatever they are doing on with a trowel and having a blast doing it. Peter Rabbit is never actually bad; it’s just a somewhat relentless, exhausting stream of a lot of things that never realizes its potential to be something more complex and satisfying – it’s like the anti-Paddington 2.
Corden’s Peter Rabbit is aided and abetted by Daisy Ridley as ‘loose cannon’ Cottontail, Peter’s youngest sister; Margot Robbie as Flopsy, Peter’s middle sister who is nervous and awkward; Elizabeth Debicki as Mopsy, Peter’s eldest sister who is feisty and stubborn and Matt Lucas as Benjamin Bunny, Peter’s clumsy cousin. They all do a decent enough job but it never really feels elevated or layered as it’s very much going for pleasing the younger members of the audience over the older ones. Adults are welcome on the journey but it’s the kids who are driving the bus.
To be honest, considering how annoying the trailers for Peter Rabbit have been, the finished product isn’t as teeth-grindingly trite as I perhaps expected. It’s a colorful rollercoaster that will entertain kids but might get less and less endearing for the adults when they likely have to watch it for the umpteenth time.