Beatrix Potter’s classic bunny hero gets a winsome update for the twenty-first century. The blue jacket wearing, mischievous Peter Rabbit will have you smiling from ear to ear. The film is live action with state of the art 3D animation. It is wickedly funny with just the right amount of heart. There are slapstick shenanigans galore, but cleverly tongue in cheek with multiple asides for grownups. Writer/director Will Gluck (Easy A) adds a heaping spoonful of romance. The result is an engaging storyline with wide audience appeal.
Peter Rabbit (James Corden), his three sisters, Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley), live with their cousin Benjamin (Matt Lucas) in a burrow on mean old Mr. McGregor’s (Sam Neill) farm. They live to raid his garden, indulging in the scrumptious array of fruits and veggies. Stealing from McGregor is dangerous business. Peter’s poor father was killed and served up in a pie. Only McGregor’s neighbor, the sweet and motherly Bea (Rose Byrne), protects the bunnies from his furious wrath.
Just when Peter thinks he has finally beaten McGregor, a nasty surprise shows up at the farm. Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), McGregor’s fastidious grandnephew, moves into the house. Even worse, the anal retentive bunny hater begins to hit it off with Bea. Peter is about to lose the garden and his surrogate mother. He decides it’s all out war against the horrible interloper.
Peter Rabbit hits you with dark humor right off the bat. Gluck doesn’t shy away from the extraordinary danger the animals face from the McGregors. It’s a bloody death and pie crust casket if caught. This macabre outcome is dealt with head on with humorous effect. The plot thickens as Thomas and Peter have to hide their disdain in front of the doting Bea. She loves the rabbits dearly, but is truthfully lacking in male companionship. Thomas’s crusty shell is broken by her warmth, but not enough to overcome his visceral hatred of the bushy tailed vermin.
Domhnall Gleeson is an absolute delight. He’s akin to Joe Pesci from Home Alone with a nitpicky brain. Thomas is such a rigid perfectionist; the chaotic Peter is his perfect foil. Gleeson is hilarious as he takes his lumps from Peter’s cunning broadsides. It’s a physical performance chock with arrogant buffoonery. Yet his countenance softens enough to be a believable suitor to the beautiful Bea. The spark, then growing relationship between the two real characters is aw shucks sweet.
Will Gluck’s script does get wrapped up in its own ingenuity. It’s almost as if a focus group pointed out every cheesy kid’s flick norm to be skewered. James Corden’s Peter is a nonstop barrage of commentary. Whether onscreen or voice over, Peter has a clever retort to everything. This results in Peter Rabbit being a far more brash character than Beatrix Potter’s books. A nuanced approach makes better sense to a point, but what’s the fun in that.
From Sony Pictures Animation, Peter Rabbit is an adventure the entire family can enjoy. I firmly believe the story adheres to the spirit and conservationist ideology of Beatrix Potter. It’s just edgier than what most fans of her work might expect. This isn’t the early 1900’s. Anthropomorphized CGI rabbits are not as congenial as they used to be.