Director: Will Gluck
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Most of the parents going to see Peter Rabbit will have grown up with tales of Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Benjamin. I know I grew up adoring the world that Beatrix Potter created, where rabbits and geese wore bonnets and jackets and lived in fully furnished and charming burrows. This new adaption of the timeless classic brings Peter and friends to a whole new generation of children- and what a treat it is for them!
The story begins with Peter (James Corden) up to his usual shenanigans- he, along with the aforementioned triplets and cousin Benjamin are breaking into grumpy McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden to steal vegetables.
The rough and tumble chase scene that ensues sets the tone for the whole film. There is danger, daring and comedy aplenty, but most of all- fun.
The beginning of the film sees Peter and pals conquer McGregor, and rejoice in their new found paradise- his mansion and plentiful garden. We are also introduced to the ‘amazing’ neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne) – based on creator Beatrix Potter. Bea is a surrogate mother to the bunnies. She shelters them from rain, feeds them water and paints them.
We then take a swift journey to London, where we meet the young Thomas McGregor (Domnhall Gleason) who has just inherited the mansion from his awful uncle. Thomas is a neurotic, narrow minded control freak- not the best new neighbour for the rabbits.
Sure enough, the arrival of Thomas poses a bigger threat to the rabbits than Old Man McGregor ever did. He is faster, meaner and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to eliminate the ‘rodent problem’ in his garden.
This is where the film really begins to come to life. Peter and Thomas engage in war over rights to the garden- although this is really a not so subtle tug of war over Beas affection. The other rabbits grow tired of Peters obsession with overthrowing Thomas, but are willing to whatever he says. Family stick together, after all.
Thomas starts to fall for Bea, and begins to soften. There is a romantic montage of the two engaging in couples activities, picnics and boat trips etc. Peter is ever present and always watching with horror at his precious Bea being stolen by his nemesis.
Bea loves the rabbits of course- which means the war between Thomas and the rabbits is put on pause whenever Bea is within earshot. This brings instant comedy- Thomas strangling Peter suddenly turns into them reading a book together- Peter throwing a tomato at Thomas turns into the two of them cuddling. This sort of comedy is gold dust when it comes to the young target audience.
The film itself takes a while to get into. There is a looong set up, probably more convoluted than necessary. The characters are over introduced (especially Thomas) and we spend a bit too long battling Old Man McGregor before the story can actually get started.
The animals are brilliant. Stars like Daisy Ridley, Sia and Margot Robbie voice them respectively- Margot Robbie even narrates the whole movie! They are precious and endearing- who doesn’t find a Badger and a Pig in jackets adorable?? Even James Corden- who at times I find unbearably in your face- was subtle enough to allow the audience to believe in Peter for the duration of the movie.
The graphics are great. I’m glad this movie chose to go the live action route, albeit animating the animals, and not full on cartoon- but I did think at the end that it would have been nice to see the movie in the style of Beatrix Potters original drawings. However, if we want to entrust this classic to a new generation, we mustn’t be afraid to let it adapt with the time and demand of the new audiences. (As painful as it is to let go of our own experiences with Peter and friends).
The only other bone I would pick with this movie is that there was a bit too much ‘adult humour’ mixed in. I get that films targeted at kids need to have a little something for the parents as well- but what happened to the clever jokes of Wallace and Gromit ilke? There seems to be a lot of partying, drinking and drug taking innuendos in Peter Rabbit. Without sounding like a prude (I’m aware I do) it seems a shame not to keep Beatrix Potters work as wholesome as it seemed to me as a child.
I have to give a special mention to the soundtrack. Littered with beautiful covers of popular songs and a whole lot of Vampire Weekend (I forgot how much I loved them!) The tone is undoubtedly reached through jaunty music and cutesy lyrics.
The movie was a really pleasant watch and a lovely reminder of childhood stories. Whether you’re going as an adult who grew up with Peter Rabbit, or a parent hoping to entertain your kids during the Easter holidays, you will not be disappointed.