Directed by: Will Gluck
Written by: Rob Lieber, Will Gluck
Cast: James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne
Swift shot: The tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter goes like this, there is a boisterous little rabbit named Peter who defies his mother by eating vegetables out of a nearby garden. His sisters obey their mother and receive a fine supper, while Peter gets sick from being chased by the owner of the garden, Mr. McGregor. That’s pretty much it. So, I wasn’t sure how Sony was going to make this into a feature length film. It would need a lot more to flesh out such a simple story. But, did they go too far with creative license or manage to get it right?
Peter (Corden) is a hero in his own mind, he gallantly dashes about gathering (stealing) vegetables from the eternally perturbed Mr. McGregor (Sam Neil). He is a real brat of a rabbit, he constantly belittles his cousin, Benjamin (Colin Moody) and his triplet sisters, Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), and Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley) by reminding them that only he is the hero and they are all his lookouts. Right away, I don’t like Peter very much.
As fortune would have it, Mr. McGregor dies while pursuing Peter. Naturally Peter takes the credit and a raucuos invasion of the McGregor house ensues reminiscent of Animal Farm. And there are plenty of animals in Peter Rabbit, and they all wear clothes and can talk. The anthropomorphization reminded me of Mr. Toad with more than fifty different animals all wearing clothes and acting like people.
Their rampage is short-lived; however, as the new owner of the McGregor estate is introduced, Thomas McGregor (Gleeson). This was by far the best part of the film, adding a more nimble, more timely, and even more likable “villain” into this simple story. Not only is Thomas a perfect adversary for Peter, he works at a toy store, which is great for product placement opportunities for say . . . bananagrams and juxtaposes his need for order whilst surrounded by objects of merriment. In other words, he’s the last person you’d expect to be running a toy store in Harrods of London. He’s more Slugworth than Wonka.
He basically wants nothing to do with his great uncle’s country estate and is only going there to sell it as soon as he can be rid of it to get back to his real passion in life, no, not selling toys, but order and attention to detail. But, then he meets Bea (Byrne) who lives just next door and acts as the surrogate mother to all of Peter’s family. She is basically a hippie who believes that putting a fence around a vegetable garden is just antithetical to nature. And an odd love triangle is formed, as Peter and Thomas both vie for Bea’s affections. Granted, as this is a family film, it doesn’t venture into the taboo, but it does get uncomfortable at times.
Maybe I am turning into an old grouch, because I took the side of the McGregors throughout the film. As a human adult who has worked on keeping things somewhat nice and grown a few herbs and plants in my time, I would be pissed off if some rodents kept stealing from my garden. It’s like how I used to feel about Tom & Jerry cartoons when Jerry would instigate with Tom first and would be brutal to poor Tom. That is what I was worried about going into Peter Rabbit, that I would hate Peter for essentially being a thief who can’t respect boundaries and would torture the stupid human for daring to have nice vegetables.
Luckily, Peter Rabbit was full of more than just violence. In fact there were several lessons in the film. But the best lesson is how Peter learns to mature and what leadership is really all about as he has to take real responsibility for his actions. I also liked that Bea was strong and smart but also had her limits when it came to the rabbits. I was actually shocked at how the writers took that bold step into reality with her character. You’ll have to see the film to know what I mean here.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t address some controversy about Peter Rabbit, apparently allergy groups are up in their berries, as one clever allusion to the original story was not appreciated. Peter overhears that Thomas is allergic to blackberries, and he uses them to attempt to kill Thomas. Yes, you read that right. While this was a kid’s movie, it had cartoonish, maniacal violence that would probably result in fatalities, not funnies. I guess if they had opted to drop an anvil on Thomas’ head, the steel workers of England would be outraged too?
What makes Peter Rabbit a quality film is the brilliant balance of interweaving Potter’s illustrations into the cinematography in a way that parents could appreciate as a reminder of the classic whilst keeping the attention of the kids who are used to seeing big CGI effects in films. There’s a good story in Peter Rabbit, and I was definitely entertained and would recommend you check this one out with your family.
Oh, and I am ashamed to admit that it didn’t dawn on me that Rose Byrne’s character Bea was supposed to be a modern Beatrix Potter until Madison pointed it out. What can I say, sometimes I am a bit harebrained.