PETER RABBIT (UK / Australia / USA / G / 94 mins)
Directed by Will Gluck. Starring James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, Sam Neill.
THE PLOT: Peter Rabbit (James Corden) is an adventurous, free-spirited rabbit that lives in an idyllic countryside setting with his siblings including Flopsy (Margot Robbie) and Mopsy (Daisy Ridley). They’re watched over by kindly artist Bea (Rose Byrne). They regularly ‘liberate’ vegetables from Old Mr McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden, as in a sense it’s rightfully theirs. When the cranky old farmer dies of natural causes, his nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) comes to take over his farm. Thomas is a city boy looking for relaxation after having a very public meltdown in his toystore job in London. He’s not going to get much relaxation, as it’s soon hate at first sight between Peter and Thomas, followed by a declaration of war… THE VERDICT: Look away, Beatrix Potter purists. The 2018 take on ‘Peter Rabbit’ is a fully modernised take on her much-loved, rebellious and rascally rabbit. Dusting off Potter’s best-selling 1902 children’s book, Director Will Gluck and co-screenwriter Rob Lieber have given the character a modern CGI-animated sheen. This isn’t a twee children’s animation that you might see on TV on a Bank Holiday morning (hinted at in the opening scene). It has more in common with ‘Tom & Jerry’ and ‘Bugs Bunny’ than Potter, but surprisingly it actually works.
Blending live action footage shot in Australia and the UK with some fluidly-realised CGI rabbits and other animals, the film has a playful, anarchic spirit from the get-go. Expertly-voiced by Corden, he’s a character that is thankfully bearable. When Thomas arrives, the film really takes off though as the new farmer and the rabbit try to outwit each other with electrified fences, explosives and all manner of booby-traps. Gleeson literally throws himself into the role with gusto, channelling that General Hux sneer to good effect. He becomes both a human pincushion and a pinball, bounced about the house with seemingly no harm done. This being a family film, it’s all done in the best possible taste.
Well, almost. This reviewer could have done without overly modern touches like the rapping birds or the animal house party. A little more subtlety in Gluck’s direction wouldn’t have gone amiss either. The human performances are pitched a little too high, as if everyone was aware they were in a live action cartoon of sorts and need to over-emphasise things. Maybe the actors were all jacked up on sugary treats at the craft service table in between shots. That said though, if you go along with it then there’s a lot of fun to had in Peter Rabbit. It’s funnier than it looks and has a sweet centre which is hard to resist. At a tight 94 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome either. ‘Peter Rabbit’ is a funny bunny, rather than a bunny boiler. RATING: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor