Somehow it just doesn’t seem quite right that Peter Rabbit, the long asked for big screen adaptation of the beloved characters and stories by Beatrix Potter, is dogged by such cynicism. The feeling of joy the source material brings is being replaced by negativity and online hoopla. So, is it really as bad as feared or is it another Paddington sized success? To be honest, Peter Rabbit is neither as bad as dreaded nor as fantastic as hoped. Elements of the story remain the same but this is largely different from the kind of tale certain generations will have been expecting or have grown up reading.
The plot sees Peter (James Corden) and his friends constantly gamble with their lives as they encroach on the old killjoy Mr. McGregor’s (Sam Neill) vegetable patch but through 70 years of “questionable life choices”, McGregor suffers an instantly fatal heart attack, leaving his veg ripe for the picking…and eating. That is until his estranged townie nephew Thomas (Domnhall Gleeson) turns up and throws Peter and co. into a fierce battle over the land and moreso over the kind affections of nature loving artist neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne).
From ‘Berrygate’ allergy controversies (stemming from a scene where characters pelt a character with berries who is allergic to them) to trailer hatred, Sony has undoubtedly had a harder time than expected with Peter Rabbit and in spite of the many flaws; it is hard to dislike a film just because it does its job. Traditionalists will be less than suited and arguably Potter herself would have been less than thrilled but the families at my screening lapped it up and had a great time and the contemporary dressing of this adaptation will undoubtedly please the tykes heading to cinemas with their stuffed Peter Rabbits in hand. That said, Peter Rabbit does tenderly pay respect to the source material, in fact these are some of the film’s more magical moments, as hand drawn styled animation segments look gorgeous and the character of Bea and her illustrations are one big tribute to Potter and her enduring work.
Really, it is a shame that much of the film rebels against the old because while some of the fresh twists work, others do feel very out of place. For instance the pop song laden soundtrack really jars and is rather unnecessary, as it eclipses the scoring by Dominic Lewis. Also the script, while having some good slapstick (mostly involving McGregor), stumbles a lot with the trendy humour and veers dangerously near to being a touch mean spirited at points. Luckily director/co-writer Will Gluck rescues things in the final stretch, as he opts more for emotion and it works in giving the characters more warmth and having lessons being learnt.
To that point, lets talk about Peter himself. On one hand he is given an early poignant arc that goes some way in explaining his disobedient lifestyle but Corden is arguably a little miscast as the voice of the iconic bunny. He might have been better used for a supporting character, as the comedy actor feels a bit too old for the part and it makes the mocking humour of Peter comes across as more an egotistical adult than mischievous kid. A younger actor or more playful tone was maybe a better route to take, and Corden would have been wiser placed occupying a role of one of the many other beloved cast of characters. That said, Corden hardly ruins Peter (as some have over exaggeratingly suggested) and there is a fantastically committed performance by Domnhall Gleeson, who fully embraces the tomfoolery of his character. Meanwhile Byrne also makes for good support, alongside a cast of some notable voices including Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley and Sia, some of who make more of an impression than others.
Still, in spite of a script that hops about a bit and some questionable decisions in adapting the material, there is no real malice in Peter Rabbit. The film has the best intentions and is entertaining enough for its intended audience and the animators have done a sterling job designing the cute characters, who look visually accomplished onscreen, as does the sunny countryside setting. Peter Rabbit may be imperfect but it is a fun enough little watch that boasts some successes, especially for its core child demographic.