Peter Rabbit (2018)
Rascal. Rebel. Rabbit.
In a quaint English countryside, old man McGregor (Sam Neill) collapses over his beloved vegetable garden from a long history of poor eating. As the ambulance takes his body away, McGregor’s mortal enemy, Peter Rabbit (James Corden), claims victory and rejoices with his cousin Benjamin Bunny (Colin Moody) and sisters Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley), opening up the now vacant property for all of his woodland friends to enjoy.
The party is soon disrupted by the arrival of McGregor’s nephew, ex-Harrods employee Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), a stuck-up, highly strung, clean-freak who promptly kicks the crazy bunch of varmints out of the house and intends to keep it so. Next door, the easy-going artist Bea (Rose Byrne), who is sympathetic towards the countryside creatures, slowly but surely finds herself falling for her new neighbor, Thomas.
Peter, seeing Bea as a kind of surrogate mother, becomes jealous of this blossoming romance and plots to take Thomas out of the picture while the fuzz-ball’s still in McGregor’s sights. Now, with both sides eager to emerge as winner, Bea and the McGregor garden find themselves in the midst of an all out war that sees man pit against nature.
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. Firstly, if you’re a purist or a hardcore fan of classic children’s author Beatrix Potter, you’ll (probably) take immediate offense to the handling of the characters here in this rather irreverent take, which feels closer in spirit to the zany Looney Tunes cartoons than it does the quiet ‘lesson of the day’ type stories produced by the beloved Brit.
Secondly, if you’ve heard about the now infamous ‘allergies’ scene, in which Thomas McGregor is haplessly tormented by his blueberry allergy, and felt uncertain about the messages it could convey to your children, I’d honestly just skip this one. I personally saw the whole ‘gag’ as a non-issue, seeing as the scene is rather brief and remains within the cartoonish context of a silly struggle between two rival parties. But, if the entire idea is enough to get you to pause, I’d say choose another flick these school holidays.
Judging from those two aspects alone, you may get a sense that tonally, this film doesn’t want to take itself seriously, unlike its original inspiration, which does. The aim of the game here is goofy farcical fun, which co-writer-director Will Gluck, Easy A (2010), gleefully establishes from the get-go in the form of a bunch of singing birds who get trampled by the titular hero (a recurring joke in the movie). A random way to open for sure, but, if you’re not cackling by this point, then the rest of the movie won’t really work for you.
I was pleasantly surprised with how far Gluck takes the action sequences — I’m talking sticks of dynamite, electric fences and an assortment of fruits and vegetables, plus an all-time slapstick favorite, the garden rake. Anyone familiar with The Simpsons and Sideshow Bob’s non-stop rake scene will be in hysterics with what happens to a very game Domhnall Gleeson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). Sure, Gleeson’s Thomas might be an excruciatingly uptight git (something of an unfortunate typecast for the otherwise decent actor), but to Gluck’s credit, who co-wrote the script with Rob Lieber, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014), there are moments where one will come to understand and even pity the guy. So effective is this that, at times, frankly, I was ready for the dastardly punk of a wabbit to get his due.
Just on the contribution of James Corden, The Emoji Movie (2017), to the title character, look, I don’t think he was the best choice to voice the blue-coat-wearing lead and I heavily suspect it was a case of picking someone who’s popular and has voice acting experience, which he certainly does. Corden is great for TV, where he can be himself, but on screen, it becomes hard to see the character he’s playing. It’s the sort of thing you just get by with, but I have a nagging feeling that the performance could’ve been rendered a little better.
The support cast are fine, with no one player coming across as especially outstanding, save for the ever radiant Rose Byrne, Neighbors (2014), who has really taken to lighter, comedic fare of late, yet doesn’t get to do much here except be her usual, charming self. The Rabbit sisters, voiced by a trio of fine actors in Margot Robbie, I, Tonya (2017), as Flopsy, Elizabeth Debicki, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), as Mopsy, and Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express (2017), as Cotton-Tail, are rather homogenized, making it difficult to differentiate the voices. Robbie, however, does get a chance to stand out a bit more as The Narrator, who pretty much chimes in for the opening, closing and a few bits in between. Lastly, Ewen Leslie, The Daughter (2015), has a few fun moments voicing a well-spoken yet ‘piggish’ pig named Pigling Bland.
One thing I really did take to was the look of the digital animals, who were designed by those ever amazing folks at Animal Logic, whose most recent well-known credits would be the animation on The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017). Here, they’ve found an excellent balance between realism and that comforting picture-book like quality that allows for filmmakers to occasionally stretch the capabilities of the critters, which still blend nicely into shots of the live actors and beautiful rural/ farmland surroundings — the film shot in New South Wales, Australia.
In closing, Peter Rabbit isn’t the knockout of the season, but if you can get past its initial controversies and embrace its anarchic type of slapstick fluff, you may find yourself enjoying its breezy ninety or so minutes. Hop to it!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Steve Ramsie