Movie Review: Peter Rabbit Hops Into Theatres
Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden). Photo provided by Original Cin.
This family-friendly charmer based on the famous Beatrix Potter books is the perfect movie for the kids in your life.
Although it’s far removed from the water-colour delicacy of Beatrix Potter’s garden-patch tales, the new CGI-plus-live-action Peter Rabbit movie has a lot of boisterous hop to it.
This take on the story of an irrepressible bunny (voiced by James Cordon) and his feud with the farmer, Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill), should appeal to kids who relish seeing small creatures give big creatures their comeuppance.
And, for the big people, there’s some clever, banter about the specific character flaws of pigs, deer, hedgehogs and rabbits who can’t help helping themselves.
American writer-directors Will Gluck (Annie, Easy A) and Rob Lieber have managed to keep things English, if not exactly traditional. Set against the Lake Country — with excellent CGI for the animal characters — it maintains the original idyllic setting. From the Potter books, we still have the familiar triplets Flopsy (Margot Robbie, who also serves as narrator), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley) and cousin Benjamin Bunny (Colin Moody).
With Peter as the leader, their purpose in life is to pilfer vegetables from the garden of the irascible Mr. McGregor. To be precise, though, this is actually England by way of Australia, where much of the film was shot, as is reflected by the casting: Mr. McGregor is played by Sam Neill, hidden behind white whiskers and a glasses. Other Aussies include Robbie, Aussie pop star Sia (as a hedgehog), and Rose Byrne as a human character.
Somewhat on the dark side for a children’s film, the human-rabbit conflict turns out to be literally a fight to the death: As in the books, Mr. McGregor won’t be happy until he sees Peter in a pie. Unexpectedly, it’s the old man who succumbs first, done in by a lifetime struggle against bad rabbits and worse habits. No sooner is he carted away by “the ice-cream truck with the flashing lights” (as Peter puts it), the triumphant bunny has opened Mr. McGregor’s house to a celebratory wildlife party.
The festivities are interrupted by a visit from McGregor’s twitchy nephew Thomas (the versatile Domhnall Gleeson, who also proves a gifted physical comedian.). Thomas is a prissy city-slicker who has just been fired from his job as a toy department floor manager at Harrods. He is determined to sell the farm and use the proceeds to set up his own toy shop, and bring the venerable store to its knees.
But first, he has to clean out the farm house’s vermin. And, to complicate matters, he must do so secretly because of his growing attraction to his neighbour in an adjacent cottage, Bea (Rose Byrne). Bea’s a nature-loving painter of grotesque abstracts. In her spare time, she knocks off dainty Potter-esque water-coloured paintings of her bunny friends.