With an obsession for the cheap laugh and dull dialogue, ‘Peter Rabbit’ fails to capture a lasting impression of a moral lesson. The film is adapted from ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’, the children’s book written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, which were later adapted into an animated series on the BBC network as ‘The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends’. The story of the peculiar, blue jacket-wearing rabbit has blended itself into British history as a best-selling classic. There’s a comfortable joy in the way the stories taught readers how to dream beyond our own boundaries and take a leap into new adventure. Peter’s treks into Mr. McGregor’s garden boasted an innocent curiosity in his little rabbit world. Heck, the stories even made eating vegetables look so fun! ‘Peter Rabbit’ paints a weak imagination of the classic, mischievous rabbit. If we want to get straight to the point, it is a film targeting children, so it’s hard for that audience not to like it, but the film hops around too many laughs to be compelling for the average viewer.
Domhnall Gleeson is the redeeming villain we can’t help but love. Sure, he’s a little extreme and comical, but it honestly works so well and makes ‘Peter Rabbit’ a little more enjoyable to watch. This young McGregor gets fired from his position as floor manager at Harrods and finds himself staying in the inherited countryside home, living beside the kind hearted Bea (Rose Byrne) and her furry companions. Gleeson’s McGregor is so intent on keeping the animals out of his garden that he pulls out measures like electrical fences and bolted mesh to doors. The rabbits, led by Peter’s self proclaimed “character flaw,” quickly devise ways around it, using very meticulous tricks to scare the young McGregor out of the house and far away from Bea’s affection.
The film brings some charm here and there as the rabbits are mischievous to no end. Peter, voiced by late night host, James Corden, declares some sort of turf war and his siblings reluctantly agree. McGregor faces hysterical misery in the form of bear traps, stepping on rakes, and even electrocutions that kids will get a kick out of. It would be a lie to say its target audience of the young age wouldn’t enjoy the antics. It has inventive, quirky obstacles. They make up the majority of the film, but ultimately find no release. Its sentimental value peeks here and there, but offer little to no redemption for what it’s cast over the legacy of the children’s book.
Rob Lieber and director Will Gluck really try to make these rabbits so human and trendy in mannerisms that it becomes grossly too much. Sony Pictures even received backlash for “allergy bullying” stemming from a scene where Peter slingshots a blackberry into McGregor’s mouth after it’s been revealed he has a serious allergy to those. It has been debatable online, but one thing that’s evident is they could’ve easily done without that bit. In picking out ways to use carrots, other vegetables, and nature itself into play, ‘Peter Rabbit’ tries very hard to barrade the viewer with so much gag laughs that it falls short in carrying emotion all the way through. There’s a whimsical and pure energy that is lacking. The closest to the source tale is probably Rose Byrne’s Bea. She loves her rabbits unconditionally and we really buy into her good nature and how she just wants to have a happy life, possibly with Thomas, but certainly not if her furry friends are being hunted. She’s the fresh air of humanity that helps reel the mayhem back in.
There’s perhaps too much vulgarity in terms of the nature of these animals. The writers thought it’d be tasteful to include a modern edge of pop culture, but it’s honestly flat. It’s not very faithful in the sense of whimsy and proper behavior. Gleeson and Byrne save this film only as much as they can. We can go as far as to say Gleeson is wasting his talent in this. There’s a small payoff in moral that will translate to kids, but it is short lived as the bulk of the film shadows it in cheesy hilarity. ‘Peter Rabbit’ is enjoyable enough to catch our hearts for a moment or two, but is sadly mistaken if it thinks it’s being a clever, modern take on Beatrix Potter’s children’s books.
Directed by: Will Gluck
Starring: Rose Byrne, James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie