Somehow, I’ve had a subconscious awareness of Peter Rabbit. I recognize the name, but I never engaged with the character as a child. The books weren’t familiar, nor did I see any of the television series The World of Peter Rabbit. Whereas, I knew Peter Cottontail, and the Cadbury Bunny, but Peter Rabbit was unfamiliar. My wife, on the other hand, seems very well versed in Peter Rabbit lore, so she caught me up after we got out of the screening. We also watched the 30-minute special The Tale of Peter Rabbit from 1991, which is streaming on HBO GO and narrated by Carol Burnett.
Needless to say, I learned a lot about Peter Rabbit that day.
Going in to the screening, I was a bit hesitant. The trailers for Will Gluck’s Peter Rabbit looked cute, but it was still a bit iffy. These sorts of films tend to cater heavily to childrern and don’t often work—looking at you 2011’s The Smurfs. But to be fair, Sony Animation has had a solid track record with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Arthur Christmas, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and the successful Hotel Transylvania franchise.
Will Gluck on the other hand, hasn’t had quite as memorable a career (Fired Up, Friends with Benefits, Annie). The one standout in his filmography is 2010’s teen rom-com/modern day take on The Scarlett Letter, Easy A. I adore Easy A, so Mr. Gluck has earned much good will with me. Gluck’s career has started to move from material for older audiences, to more family oriented projects such as Annie and now Peter Rabbit.
Peter Rabbit Review
Peter Rabbit takes place in the beautiful English countryside. The mean old Farmer McGregor (Sam Neill) carefully cultivates his garden and keeps his eyes peeled for our mischievous, hungry hero, Peter. The feud between McGregor and Peter is fueled by a tragic family history. The mediator in all of this is Bea (Rose Byrne), McGregor’s nature-loving next-door neighbor. Bea tries to keep the peace between the curmudgeon and the local wildlife.
Byrne’s performance of Bea is very sweet, and is in fact a stand in for the Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter. Bea is the friendly girl-next-door is advocates for all nature, exclaiming that the land is everyone’s not just McGregor’s.
One fateful day in the garden, Farmer McGregor’s heart gives out, giving us the catalyst for the arrival of young Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson). Young McGregor is a high-strung, anal retentive manager type, who desires to open his own toy store to take down the lauded Harrods of London.
Peter (James Corden) and his family think things will be different upon the arrival of Young McGregor, but some things run deeper than blood.
Peter Rabbit gets off to a loud start, and brings jokes a mile a minute. The slapstick is heavy and so are the visual gags. There are a lot of positives in the early going—the animation is gorgeous, the voice work from Corden, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley and Elizabeth Debicki is a lot of fun. Each character has an archetype that play in to our understanding of rabbits and traditional family narratives. Each character (Peter, Flopsy, Cottontail and Mopsy, respectively) brings something fun to their part of the narrative. The family is also joined by a cousin, Benjamin (Matt Lucas), who is Peter’s unwitting sidekick — that’s his character flaw.
Young McGregor’s initial arrival is followed by some laughs. But as we find ourselves deep into the second act, the film loses its energy. Sure, we get some fun Home Alone-esque pranks, but without the energy that the film opens and, thankfully, closes with. But, once the film becomes a boy-meets-girl with rabbit rom com, it loses its footing.
This is partially due to imbalance. The humor is a mile a minute to start, and then it just peters out. This break in the middle of the film hinders the overall work, but also gives the audience a chance to breathe. And this break could be a double-edged sword for the intended audience.
But, overall, the narrative is constructed to invoke the expected emotional response from its audience—no matter the age. Ultimately, it is a very sweet reflection on family and love and each characters role within. Now, it isn’t as nuanced as other films, but it can certainly be a conversation starter for families.
I solidly recommend Peter Rabbit for families going out to a matinee. Certainly, this is the first big family movie of the year, and it should bring in a good number.
If it can get past Jumanji, that is.
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