Peter Rabbit is a book series which looms large in the hearts of many. Even if you haven’t read the stories, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the character, and have likely seen the art. So, the fact that a film version coming to the screen is being met with some varied reactions seems interesting. Is the new movie a big screen bastardization of the much loved books? What should you know before taking the kids (or yourself!) to see Peter Rabbit?
Peter Rabbit follows the famous rabbit family, led by Peter (James Corden). Along for the ride are Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debecki), Cottontail (a delightful Daisy Ridley) and Benji (Colin Moody). Things seem to be going perfectly when Old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neil) dies (early in act 1… not really a spoiler), leaving his farmhouse and garden unattended. However, the serenity is shattered with the arrival of Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson). Not only does he take over the house, but also steals the attentions of the rabbits favorite human, Bea (Rose Byrne).
Let’s start with the first thing… this is not the Peter Rabbit of the books. Would famed author Beatrix Potter roll in her grave? That’s probably up to individual viewers. The movie distances itself almost immediately with the early death of Old Mr. McGregor. The arrival of the next generation of McGregor tells audiences exactly what they need to know… this is Peter Rabbit for a new generation. To make a long story short… put the books out of your mind for this one.
Peter Rabbit features a number of laugh out loud moments. The humor is fairly versatile, featuring bodily humor for the kids and some small meta-moments for the adults. Some jokes might hit harder than others, but the script is packed so full that there are bound to be a few chuckles in there for everyone.
Some particular awesomeness comes from the casting of Domhnall Gleeson as McGregor the younger. Readers will recognize the young actor as General Hux from the recent Star Wars films, and Bill Weasley from the Harry Potter franchise. Gleeson puts forward a layered and interesting performance, especially when considering the simple nature of the kids material. Thomas… all things considered is a likable guy. He just doesn’t like change. This makes Peter Rabbit feel refreshing, as Thomas doesn’t feel like a mustache twirling villain. In fact, part of the narrative involves how Peter and Thomas are both at fault for everything which occurs. This comes across simply, and works in the scope of the story.
Now to blow nerds minds with an image… if you sit down to a Peter Rabbit screening envisioning General Hux taking on a hoard of rabbits, the film becomes even more entertaining. Just try it.
Probably the most substantial issue comes through in the character of Bea. Byrne receives laughingly little to do. She is the stereotypical “woman”, functioning primarily as a love interest. When she’s not managing to miss Thomas and Peter’s raging battle, she is delivering the movie’s primary theme. We’re the latecomers to the natural world. We need to allow wildlife to live and give them space. All in all, Byrne seems largely wasted in the part, reduced to merely smiling sweetly as Thomas and the rabbits receive most of the laughs.
Peter Rabbit has a few small nitpicks, especially in terms of form and construction. At times, the music seems a bit distracting, spanning pleasant kids movie music to hip hop in the blink of an eye. Structurally, the third act feels a bit out of whack with the rest of the story. A dramatic shift in tone sets in and seems majorly out of place. The heavy shift occurring so late in the film had this preview audience loosing a bit of focus into act three. However, the moment is fleeting and passes almost as quickly as it arrives.
Peter Rabbit is a simple, fun family film. If you’re looking for something to take the kids, it’s a solid choice. Also… fans of Domhnall Gleeson… I know you’re out there. Go there, hold your head up and enjoy it. It’s a cute kids film, just have your expectations in check and forget about the books.
Peter Rabbit opens in theaters around the country on this weekend.