Peter Rabbit is a family film that succumbs to some of the worst traits of family films. Its story is ridiculously simplistic, its humor is juvenile, its action is overly violent (though cartoonishly so) and most of its characters come off as dumb. That being said, it has a very likable cast and the animated animals are charmingly integrated with the human cast. I cannot recommend it, but it was slightly better than I was expecting.
As I said, the story is simple. Peter (voiced by Late, Late Show host James Corden, who voiced Hi-5 in last year’s The Emoji Movie and will be heard later this year in Smallfoot and Wreck-It Ralph 2) and his family are coddled by Bea (Rose Byrne), who makes sure they have food and shelter when necessary. Meanwhile, the rabbits are constantly engaged in a battle with grumpy old Farmer McGregor (Sam Neill, who was seen last month in the Liam Neeson thriller The Commuter) on their never-ending quest to steal his vegetables. One thing leads to another and McGregor’s farm is taken over by his Great Nephew, Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson, General Hux in the latest Star Wars films). Thomas intends to fix up and sell the house and takes offense to the wildlife trying to invade his property. Things are further complicated when Thomas and Bea take a liking to each other.
All of this sounds harmless and pleasant enough, and at times it is. But the battle of wits between Peter and Thomas is neither of those things. In the grand tradition of Home Alone and the like, they do increasingly mean and violent things to each other to mark their territory and turn Bea toward their side. It is not funny and, even more than that, it makes Peter and Thomas seem like jerks, while Bea looks like an idiot for not realizing what is going on. It is inevitable that films like this will have a happy ending, but the entire middle portion made it nearly impossible for me to care if things worked out for these people (and rabbits).
That being said, Peter Rabbit has put together an enjoyable cast and they are able to make things more amusing than they otherwise would have been, while also making the bad aspects a little more palatable. As the two main humans in the cast, Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson display good comic timing and, especially in Gleeson’s case, an ability to do physical humor. Byrne’s Bea is sweet but never cloying and Gleeson’s Thomas never becomes mean enough to overwhelm the moments where he is nice (though he does come close at one point).
The voice cast is also pretty good. As Peter Rabbit, James Corden certainly has the most dialogue. Sadly, Peter is the most uneven character in the film. He has some funny lines and the animators made him pretty cute, but I just did not like him. The writing (the screenplay has been adapted from Beatrix Potter’s story by Rob Lieber and director Will Gluck (who also directed and co-wrote the 2014 adaptation of Annie)) made arrogance and selfishness his two most defining character traits and the rest of the film was neither clever nor funny enough to overcome that.
The rest of the voice cast has their moments. Peter’s sisters Flopsy (Margot Robbie, currently up for a Best Actress Oscar for I, Tonya) and Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) are constantly involved in a battle of one-upmanship that gets mildly annoying. While their other sister, Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley, Star Wars heroine Rey), seems to be off in her own world. She gets the most laughs out of the three. Peter’s most trusted ally is his cousin, Benjamin Bunny (Colin Moody), who is probably the nicest character in the entire film. And then there is the hedgehog Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (singer-songwriter Sia, who also provided a voice for last year’s My Little Pony: The Movie).
Peter Rabbit (84 minutes, plus a couple more scenes during the end credits) is either too wacky or not wacky enough to be funny. The scenes of slapstick violence rest uneasily next to the softer and sweeter moments and make the resolution feel unrealistic, even for a film about talking rabbits. Though I did chuckle a couple of times, I did not particularly care for it as a whole. However, I saw Peter Rabbit with my eight and soon-to-be seven year-old nephews who laughed very hard through much of it. So, for parents who have already taken their kids to the much better Paddington 2, I suppose it will do until something better comes along.
2¼ out of 5
Rose Byrne as Bea
Domhnall Gleeson as Thomas McGregor
James Corden as Peter Rabbit (Voice)
Margot Robbie as Flopsy (Voice)
Daisy Ridley as Cotton-Tail (Voice)
Elizabeth Debicki as Mopsy (Voice)
Colin Moody as Benjamin Bunny (Voice)
Sia as Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (Voice)
Sam Neill as Mr. McGregor
Directed by Will Gluck
Screenplay by Rob Lieber and Will Gluck