Peter Rabbit Review
It was worse than I even thought possible.
Peter Rabbit (James Cordon) spends his days with his friends causing chaos and stealing from the garden of the grumpy Mr McGregor (Sam Neill). When McGregor dies the animals have free reign, that is until McGregor’s nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) inherits the house and begins to get close to neighbour and animal loving painter Bea (Rose Byrne).
It is difficult not to bring up the recent live action Paddington when discussing Peter Rabbit, because that is clearly what this was aiming for. But where Paddington is sincere to the source material in its updating, heart-warming, clever, and funny, Peter Rabbit wants to get as far away from the genteel country fables of Beatrix Potter’s work as possible and is bland, stupid, annoying, and cringingly unfunny. Don’t worry though, just in case you’ve lost your focus it breaks out a pop musical number every now and then. Also, the animals in their plans to get “their” garden back aren’t even fun in a silly way, it’s just downright mean.
Thomas is highly strung and clearly in need of some sort of psychiatric counselling, but he doesn’t seem to be THAT bad of a person, yet Peter makes, at my count, three genuine attempts on Thomas’ life. Including the scene which has received the brunt of the film’s criticism where the rabbits pelt the man with blackberries in an attempt to induce an allergic reaction to the point of anaphylactic shock and the use of an Epipen. It’s not even the allergies that are the main issue - the movie even lampshades this in an earlier moment - it’s that our “hero” is a fuzzy little sociopath. None of it helped by the horrible miscasting of James Cordon, his voice feels wrong every time we hear it.
Along with brief moments of animation created in the style of Beatrix Potter’s paintings, the human cast are probably the best part of the film and there are scenes with Byrne and Gleeson within their oddball romance that in another movie would border on charming as both are naturally quite likeable. However, the movie seems to realise this, and cuts away to more animal antics before the quality of the film has a chance to improve. With sparse chuckles to be had, I did enjoy an overly elaborate travel montage towards the end and Daisy Ridley as Peter’s sister Cotton-Tail is genuinely entertaining. However, these moments are brought down by stupid shenanigans and jokes that don’t so much run as drag, there are attempts at self-aware humour but don’t work as well as they should.
There is also the egregious crime of completely wasting the amazing Sam Neill as a more familiar incarnation of Mr McGregor, who lasts about two minutes before dying of a heart attack and then Peter pokes his corpse in the eye. It’s been some time since I read any of Beatrix Potter’s books, but I don’t recall them ever having a body count. Then, just when you think it can’t get more ludicrous, Peter actually talks to Thomas, establishing for the first time (and rather late on in the film) that these animals can talk to humans. Culminating in the final stupid feather in the film’s cap of low quality, mess, and utter nonsense.
I think there is this false idea that just because something is aimed at children it can be stupid, when in reality, more substance is often required when entertaining the next generation of moviegoers with. Just look at the work produced by the likes of Studio Ghibli, Laika, Pixar, Aardman, and Cartoon Saloon; beautiful films that can be fun and enjoyed by young and old whilst also being well made and thought provoking. Peter Rabbit is the very antithesis of that.