By Jack Dignan
Beatrix Potter’s beloved, mischievous rabbit Peter has delighted and entertained children of all generations. While the books continue to be handed down generation to generation, it’s been over two decades since the last on-screen incarnation, and nearly five since he was last seen on the big screen. Now it’s 2018. Peter Rabbit’s back. And while the essence and essentials of what he once was remains, this is, for the most part, a new take on a classic story, and surprisingly, there’s just enough here to work.
It’s a story for the ages. Peter (fully CGI but voiced by James Cordon) and his all-star cast of siblings and friends (including but not limited to Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley and Elizabeth Debicki) have one goal in life: steal as many vegetables from Old Mr. McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden as possible. It’s far from an easy task; McGregor having set traps everywhere the rabbit’s turn, but when Old Mr. McGregor passes away, a new, younger Mr. Gregor takes control of the farm, now played by Domhnall Gleeson. He’s faster, nastier and smarter than he who came before him, and things become further complicated for the rabbits when he begins to fall in love with their only human alley, Bea (Rose Byrne).
While the basic elements of the original stories are kept in tact, screenwriters Will Gluck (who also directed the film) and Rob Lieber modernize it into a story for a more party-minded audience. It’s not quite as sweet and innocent as the original stories, which will no doubt irritate any purists of Potter’s original work, but for those like myself who don’t hold the books as sacred text, this new Peter Rabbit is a lot of fun. It mixes together a variety of different styles and humour, crafting a fast paced, loud and often hilarious family film that’ll have more than just the five-year-old kids in the audience laughing.
The wild antics one would expect are dialed up to eleven. Describing this film as extreme is an understatement, but this extremity is so ridiculous that it works. Peter and Mr. McGregor are constantly at each other’s throats, quite literally at times, and their methods to the madness bring the creative slapstick humour to life in a number of genuinely funny sequences. Some of the traps may prove shocking, and perhaps excessive, for parents of younger children, but while I can’t speak for everyone (obviously), the kids in my screening were having a blast. And trust me, there were a lot of kids. In fact, a young boy sitting just two seats down from me was having so much fun that his laughter became infectious after a while.
From a visual standpoint too, this film soars above a lot of children’s films. The cinematography is nothing to shout about, but the visual effects are simply sublime, these animals flawlessly interacting with the not only the sets, but the human characters too. There was never once a moment where I thought, “okay, this looks as though it were obviously done in a computer.” Everything’s genuine and real, and the voice acting is stellar. Peter Rabbit boasts an all-star cast, with Peter’s aforementioned siblings stealing the show with their constant bickering and competitiveness. Unfortunately, it’s James Cordon who’s the film’s weakest link. His loud, obnoxious yelling does a disservice to the character, never quite matching the sincerity of who he’s meant to be.
There are a lot of moments where his erratic behaviour works, and Cordon feels perfectly cast, but moments throughout require a more tender approach to the storytelling, and that’s where Cordon falls short. It’s like living in the alternate reality where Colin Farrell was still set to voice Paddington. While I do love Farrell, his voice isn’t suited for that of a kindhearted, loveable bear with an obsession with marmalade. In the same way, Cordon doesn’t quite suit the mischievous, but overall caring protagonist he’s hired to voice. But still, the live action components come oh so close to redeeming him, with Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson giving absolutely delightful, if not somewhat over the top performances.
However, this whole film is remarkably over the top. If you want to enjoy it, you’ve just got to roll with it. Some of the ridiculousness works, most notably the scenes where Peter and McGregor are just going at it, and some it doesn’t, for instance the moments of humour that just tries way too hard to please. And then there are recurring jokes that, while annoying at first, I quickly learnt to love. I’ve never gone from hating a rooster so much to being absolutely in love with every word it was saying. This new Peter Rabbit is a real mixed back, but for those after a fun escape they can take their kids, nieces, nephews or cousins etc. to, there are definitely worse options.
Like the article? Make sure to spread the word on social media.
You May Also Like: