“Peter Rabbit”: The Stylized American Kids Movie- Not The Rational Children’s Book

By Scott Kurland

Film: Peter Rabbit

Starring: James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, SIA, and Sam Neil

Rated PG

Director: Will Gluck

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             Last spring, a challenge appeared online by way of Facebook.  It requested that participants “Write the first sentence of a book, then add ‘...and then the murders began.’” Not wanting to feel left out, I chose one of my favorite children’s books, “Peter Rabbit.” “Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter...and then the murders began.” I thought that was pretty funny due to the purity and wholesomeness of Beatrix Potter’s books; it became less so when I saw this week’s film “Peter Rabbit." And then the murders began indeed. Let’s find out what I’m referring to shall we? (Note: minor spoilers for the film.)

            “Peter Rabbit” opens with Peter Rabbit (James Corden) and his cotton-tailed compatriots as they burglarize Old Man McGregor’s (Sam Neil) garden. After giving  the farmer a good chase, Mr. McGregor has a massive heart attack and dies. Hooray? Peter and his family take possession of the estate, but the grumpy old farmer had a grandnephew. That's right. Peter now must face a younger, better looking McGregor named Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson). Thomas wants to sell the farm and use the profits to open a toy store. Plans shift however when Thomas meets the beautiful Bea (Rose Byrne). For years Bea has served as a surrogate mother to the rabbits. And just like they've proven with the farm, they're territorial. Now it’s Man vs. Rabbit as they try to become victorious over the garden and Bea.

             Let me just state for the record that this film sends the wrong message to children. What could I possibly mean by that? Well, for starters, our hero is the villain. And our villain? He is the suffering hero. He literally suffers at the paws of this cotton-tailed devil. Sure, in the books, Peter is mischievous...but he also grows as a character. He's cute and cuddly, but ultimately naive. Why? Because he's a child! This "mature" Peter learns his lesson only at the last possible moment, and only because he has to. What did we really expect? Director Will Gluck takes Beatrix Potter’s beloved bunny and makes him a catchphrase-quipping CGI brat. Not even the delightful James Corden could make him redeemable.  His behavior is simply horrendous. Peter constanlty boasts that he murdered Mr. McGregor and that his nephew will meet the same fate. This begs the question "Is “Peter Rabbit,” a family film?"  No. No it is not. This "children's movie" hurls every Sony musician at you in the hopes that you will rush to buy their songs on iTunes. 

            Ironically, the only redeemable characters in “Peter Rabbit” walk on two legs rather than four.  Domhnall Gleeson and Rose Byrne give decent performances as Thomas and Bea. I’ve been a fan of Gleeson’s for years. If you’ve read my reviews of his previous films, you know I gush about him even when he’s the bad guy. Gleeson is supposed to be the antagonist. But if you were to look at his plot line on paper, you’d think otherwise. Thomas McGregor is a workaholic who is asked to “take some time off” after his great uncle dies. He moves to the country, falls in love with his beautiful neighbor, and has to overcome several obstacles; one of which is himself. Peter rewards his efforts with property damage and electrified doorknobs. How is this guy our villain? How? If anything, he’s just an OCD workaholic who wants to start his life over. Gleeson does his best here, but the script is garbage and his character is literally forced to become a villain. To put it more bluntly, he gives a B+ performance in a D movie. The same goes for Byrne who is her usual lovely self. She lights up the screen and brings warmth to a rather flat character.

            A few weeks ago, “Paddington 2” came into theaters and gave us the storybook hero we never knew we needed: a charming, marmalade-loving bear. “Peter Rabbit” meanwhile, simply proves how low Sony will sink in order to make a quick buck. This film is nothing but a catalog for Sony music artists and Sony-based products. Beatrix Potter’s family even went on record stating that she would not have approved of what was done to her characters. I also want to point out that two characters die not ten minutes into the film. One of the deaths is just downright graphic. I cannot recommend this film and, more importantly, I don’t know why a great film company like studio canal didn’t make this movie. They made magic with “Paddington.” It’s a shame they couldn’t do it again with “Peter Rabbit.”

REVIEW RATING: D

scott kurland