Peter Rabbit review: Beatrix Potter’s lovable characters come to life in this new imagining of the classic story.
Peter Rabbit review by Luke Ryan Baldock.
Peter Rabbit sees another British literary icon come to the screen. After two adorably perfect Paddington films it would be madness to expect anything less than a quaint, funny, heartfelt story tha…oh never mind! We’re going the loud and obnoxious route.For the most part anyway. Rather than following the example set by Paddington, Peter Rabbit wants celebrity voices in thankless roles, non-stop catchy tunes, inane slapstick that borders on sadistic, and a general distrust that the audience will be able to remain focused on the events on screen.
The film starts with a number of singing birds regaling us with a beautiful song. This is soon interrupted by the brash and annoying Peter Rabbit (James Corden) who quips and irritates continuously throughout the film. Sure, Peter could always be seen as impetuous, but here he is cranked up to celebrity-comedian-voice levels of annoyance; they’ve paid for James Corden and they’re going to get their money’s worth. The next time we see the birds they are singing popular songs or even trying their hand at hip-hop.
The plot starts off in a familiar fashion, with Peter Rabbit stealing from Mr. McGregor’s (a delightfully cantankerous and unrecognisable Sam Neill) garden. But after McGregor dies, his uptight nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), inherits the estate. Rose Byrne plays Bea, an artist who lives next to the McGregor’s and wishes for them and the wildlife to all get along. But with Thomas wanting to sell the property, and falling for Bea, a battle arises between him and the titular rabbit.
Slapstick is all well and good, but Will Gluck’s comedy set-pieces are indefensibly cruel. Of course sometimes the sheer absurdity and next level violence do occasionally raise a chuckle, but when the cute characters set out to straight-up murder Thomas, you start to wonder if you wouldn’t prefer to see Peter in a pie. The film also has difficulty deciding on its tone or what kind of humour to incorporate. It ranges from cruel slapstick to fourth wall breaking, and although these don’t have to be mutually exclusive, the latter never feels natural enough. Granted, their are some good jokes here, especially the Thomas and Peter fist fight where they have to pause each time Bea enters, but it still doesn’t feel Potter-esque.
Related: Paddington 2 review
Performance-wise most credit goes to Gleeson, who does sell his encounters with the CGI creatures, as well as making sure we feel every knock he takes. Byrne is rather dull, but mostly due to her being written in such a way. Corden’s voice is fine for Peter, at least in tone, but he never adds anything outside of his natural vocals. It feels less like Peter Rabbit and more like James Corden has simply undergone a massive operation.
Never quite as soulless as Alvin and the Chipmunks, the greatest shame here is that it has all the ingredients to be more than a quick cash grab Easter holiday distraction. There are beautiful animated sequences reminiscent of the original illustrations, moments of charm and heart, and is generally very well produced. But when they have a party scene to Rancid’s Time Bomb, followed by a gag in which Peter acts high, it brings everything down to a level that may very well keep people entertained, but it’s not one that will pass down generations. Here’s hoping Disney’s upcoming Christopher Robin stays true to its roots.
Peter Rabbit review by Luke Ryan Baldock, March 2018.
Peter Rabbit is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 16th March 2018.