“Peter Rabbit”- Movie Review
Peter Rabbit (not to be confused with the strikingly similar Peter Cottontail) was born from the creative mind of artist and nature conservationist Beatrix Potter. Ever since his literary debut in 1902 with The Tales of Peter Rabbit, the beloved character’s many adventures with his animal friends lived on for generations through Potter’s children’s books and TV shows. Now those stories have gotten the cinematic treatment thanks to the same studio that’s brought us The Smurfs and The Emoji Movie. How….reassuring (insert pessimistic sarcasm here).
Directed and co-written by Will Gluck (Easy A, Annie) the film is a more modern take on Potter’s classic story. It follows the cunning and mischievous Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden) as he leads his friends and family on a raid of a luscious garden owned by a grumpy old farmer. When an incident thrusts the farmer out of the picture, his long-lost relative Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) moves in. Despite the new arrival, Peter’s determined to get back into the garden. Things get tricky when a relationship starts to bloom between the new McGregor and Bea (Rose Byrne), a young painter who shows kindness toward the animals. But Peter and his pals won’t go down without a fight.
When I saw the very first trailer for Peter Rabbit, I rolled my eyes. Between Corden’s voice, the clips of partying animals, and the heavy emphasis of its modernity convinced me that this was going to crash and burn on arrival. It felt very much like The Smurfs, where they took an older, more timeless property and tried to make it so contemporary that it turned out a complete disaster. Though to my surprise and relief, the film turned out to be nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be.
Peter Rabbit is a prime example of how to do a simple family film correctly. It has just the right amount of good humor, just the right amount of charm, and just the right amount of heart to make it a thoroughly entertaining sit. The film never feels like a cheap cash-grab. It never feels as though it was forced onto the screen by producers trying to milk you for a quick buck. The effort is clearly there. The animation is beautifully rendered. The level of detail and realism on the animal characters is ridiculously good, and they are all so stinking cute. The voice-acting is so good that after the first few minutes you forget who’s playing who. That is, except for James Corden, only because his voice is so distinct he’s hard to miss.
The English countryside is also wonderfully captured. That, paired with a light-hearted yet slightly dark tone, creates a very story-book-esque world. One that still has many real dangers. And Domhnall Gleeson and Rose Byrne fit nicely into that world. Gleeson gives an interesting performance to say the least. He’s basically playing a slightly more over-the-top version of his General Hux character from Star Wars. But it works. He’s really funny! And Rose Byrne manages to bring a likable personality into what is essentially an unremarkable role. She’s also really funny! But you know what I appreciate the most about this movie? It’s cleverness.
Something I’ve seen in bad family films is this weird inability to strike a balance between appealing to adults and appealing to children. They try to take boring and incomprehensible “grown-up” subject matter (mostly corporate mumbo-jumbo) and combine it with what they think kids these days are into (twerking, catchphrases, social media, and LOTS of fart jokes) without putting any thought into it. Peter Rabbit spares itself from this type of laziness. It never panders to an audience it thinks is stupid. It’s modern, but not desperately so. It plays with lame clichés and weaves them into thoughtful jokes and a decent story.
Pretty much any flaws I have with Peter Rabbit are nitpicks. Maybe some of the self-referential jokes are repeated one too many times. Maybe some sequences are played a tad too over-the-top. Perhaps the story is a tad too predictable. Honestly, the issues aren’t big enough to warrant a detailed rant. The film is thoroughly entertaining, with a greak look and feel, great acting, smart writing, and enjoyably brutal slapstick. It’s a simple delite.