Peter Rabbit (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Gather up the families, we have a custom-made animated movie for everyone to share in!
Peter Rabbit will likely engage younger viewers with its rampant energy and overwhelming cadence and pacing.
Stellar animation throughout, from the character rendering to the integration with real-life actors to the moments where Beatrix Potter's work "comes to life."
I was exhausted by 30 minutes in and the movie just...keeps...coming at you...
Throws out Potter's tone and style for a modernized, mediocre animated kids flick. For those who grew up with or shared Potter's books with their children, this is going to feel all wrong.
Peter is really hard to like here, even taking credit for potentially killing someone. The screenplay is a mess and a pop music song score underlines nearly every scene in the first half of the movie. The word relentless comes to mind.
I want to believe that the creators of Peter Rabbit wanted to honor the iconic writing of Beatrix Potter. Her first novel, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”, released in October 1902, set the stage for a lasting legacy of stories dedicated to a series of happenings in and around the non-animal loving Mr. McGregor and his vegetable garden and farm.
Potter would author 23 children’s books over a 28-year span and would often revisit the stories of her precocious rabbit, his sisters, and numerous supporting characters. The origin story is one of the biggest selling books of all time, moving over 45 million copies since it first debuted.
She was very protective of her work. Potter herself famously denied Walt Disney the rights to make an animated Peter Rabbit film in the 1930s, and, over the years, there has been a number of television specials, a ballet film, animated programs, but never a full-length theatrical release until Sony Pictures Animation put Peter Rabbit into production.
And I would be lying if I said I was not curious what Potter would think of this whole endeavor.
Directed and co-written by Will Gluck (Easy A, Annie), along with screenwriter Rob Lieber, this iteration of Peter’s story is schizophrenic and haphazardly constructed. There is no whimsical or soft-spoken nature to any of this, and we exist in breakneck speed, with Gluck and Lieber tossing jokes up on screen at faster than the film can keep up with. Constantly busy, Peter Rabbit is not always moving with clear purpose mind you, but just busy – as if we are bouncing around because, I dunno, kids need to have that in their lives these days, maybe?
Eventually, when you come down off the film’s sugar high, Peter Rabbit does have a beating heart underneath all this agitated gaga we have to endure. But man oh man, the first 30-40 minutes of this is a lot to sit through. Like a lot a lot.
Peter (James Corden) is amped up from the opening frames, relishing in the chaos he brings to the maniacal and diabolical Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill, in a short cameo). Peter’s sisters, Flopsy (Margot Robbie, also serving as Narrator), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley), along with cousin Benjamin (Matt Lewis), constantly follow Peter’s lead in stealing from Mr. McGregor’s garden. Their “human”, the kind-hearted Bea (Rose Byrne), defends them at every turn and believes animals should be free to roam wherever they want to go.
Not for nothing, but why she would bother keeping pets at all is a fair question. But I digress.
When an unfortunate event leads to Mr. McGregor’s departure from the farm, a new McGregor, nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) arrives and looks to sell the property and rake in the proceeds. Passed over for a big raise and a promotion, he sees the property as his meal ticket to a comfortable lifestyle. However, he soon meets Bea. And he likes Bea. And Peter and his cohort of animal friends and family don’t like the idea of Bea liking Peter so much.
And so – let the wacky hijinks continue!
There are positives. Peter Rabbit is brilliantly animated and the film looks seamlessly constructed from an animation standpoint. I can admit that Peter and his animal friends look dynamic on screen and the film offers realistic looking backdrops and animated characters.
Gleeson and Byrne do everything they can to keep this thing afloat. Together, they wade through the chaos bursting around them, develop some great chemistry, even if, logically, Bea seems far too smart, and set in her ways, to fall for a Thomas who poorly hides the fact that he secretly wants to destroy her beloved animals.
Peter, by the way, is kind of a jerk. He relishes in the misfortune of others and even boasts about accomplishing something rather dark and sinister. Granted, because this is a kids movie, we are supposed to just sweep that all under the carpet and look the other way. But let’s not pretend that Peter does not embrace a cruel, self-centered, arrogant, and vicious side to some (much) of his decision-making.
The best moments are ever so fleeting, when Gluck brings Potter’s drawings to life in brief segments of animation that are delightful and rather beautiful. In these moments, the movie takes a breath and we do too, appreciating the intricate and delicate flourishes that Potter’s book not only spoke about, but also tenderly brought to life with her endearing illustrations.
Savor those moments while you can, because this is also a movie edited within an inch of its life and features approximately 20-plus song snippets within that vertigo-inducing first 30-40 minutes.
Rather than dialing back and building to significant moments, Gluck's take on Peter Rabbit just hits the accelerator and goes for more, more, and more again. Thus, the innocence and wonder of Beatrix Potter’s work vanishes before our eyes.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Domnhall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Sam Neill, Marianne Jean Baptiste.
Featuring the Voices of: James Corden, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley, Matt Lewis, Sia, Rachel Ward, Bryan Brown.
Director: Will Gluck
Written by: Will Gluck, Rob Leiber
Adapted from stories and characters created for "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter
Release Date: February 9, 2018
Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Entertainment