Are you looking for a couple hours of family entertainment? Check out our Five-Minute Movie Review: Peter Rabbit and decide if this is the movie for you.
Last weekend saw the release of PETER RABBIT, based on the works of Beatrix Potter. Featuring voice work by late night talk show host James Corden, STAR WARS‘ breakout star Daisy Ridley, singer Sia and current Oscar nominee Margot Robbie, as well as live action performances by Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson and Sam Neill, this film is directed by Will Gluck, who is responsible for the hideous remake of ANNIE a few years ago.
Thankfully for all involved, this is a marked improvement over Mr. Gluck’s last feature; however, that is the most back-handed of back-handed compliments. PETER RABBIT is a very mixed bag, featuring sweet moments that are guaranteed to melt your heart but also repetitive slapstick scenes that look borrowed from the outtakes of HOME ALONE.
Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much from this movie before going in, so my mixed reaction is actually better than I anticipated.
The plot centers around Peter and his siblings Flopy, Mopsy and Cottontail, who are desperately trying to enter the garden of mean Old Mr. McGregor and gluttonize on the gorgeous fruits and vegetables that seem to last for miles. Peter is captured and is just about to meet his fate when the old man keels over and dies from a heart attack.
Peter and family, along with all the other forest creatures in their clique, celebrate and take ownership of not only Mr. McGregor’s garden but his house as well, believing they are the heirs apparent. Little do they know that Mr. McGregor had a nephew in New York who inherits the property, and let’s just say the McGregor hatred of animals appears to run in the family.
Much to the dismay of the forest animals, young McGregor arrives, hoping to sell as quickly as possible and start his own toy store. While there, he takes an interest in neighbor Bea, a beautiful would-be artist who has basically taken the little rabbits into her care since both of their parents have passed away.
The bulk of the story from here concerns young McGregor and wily Peter constantly at odds with one another, each surpassing the other in their attempts at domination and victory, not only of the McGregor house and garden but also the affections of Bea.
Okay, good news first: the animal effects are often spectacular and in their best moments made me think back to 1995 Best Picture nominee BABE. Young children in love with nature and animals in general will have a field day.
And the human performances by Rose Byrne as Bea and Domhnall Gleeson as the young Mr. McGregor are winning. Byrne, in particular, as an absolutely radiant presence on film, and her wattage does wonders to help keep the film afloat. Gleeson’s character is rather frustrating, especially toward the end when his feelings and motives don’t seem to always make sense, but the actor himself is charming when need be, villainous when need be, and a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, the story leaves a lot to be desired. The film eventually dissolves into a one-note Road Runner vs. Wile E. Coyote type of comedy that wears out its welcome pretty quickly. There are more pratfalls here than a dozen Three Stooges films, and there is an attempt to bring Peter and his cousin Benjamin into the big city that feels contrived and out of place with the rest of the film.
Also, parents, be forewarned. There are a couple questionable decisions by the filmmakers that might leave some younger children upset. In flashback, we learn of the deaths of Peter’s mother and father. His father is killed trying to steal food for his family and is made into a pie. I was also a bit surprised by how they showed the death of Old Mr. McGregor, culminating in Peter touching the open eyeball of the old man to insure his demise. Young children who are overly emotional may find these scenes unsettling.
Overall, while I can’t totally recommend PETER RABBIT, there are certainly much worse choices out there for your family. My 9 year old nephew seemed to enjoy it, and he only went to the bathroom twice, which is a good sign. While certainly not a must-see, this trifle is still OK for a snowy afternoon with a bucket of popcorn. It will go down easy, for the most part, but it will also be quickly forgotten.