Peter Rabbit and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures Releasing
Directed by Will Gluck
Wait, didn’t we already get this movie like three years ago? Yeah, Russel Brand was the Easter Bunny or something, right? I didn’t imagine that? Ugh… anyway, it looks like after the SMASHING success of other CGI animal movies like Alvin and the Chipmunks and Woody Woodpecker, it’s time to drag this Beatrix Potter classic out of the closet and imbue it with all the stuff that out of touch executives think the KIDS OF TODAY will find totally dope! Okay, that’s a bit unfair considering I’ve never even read the original source material, and it’s not like updates to classic properties are ALWAYS a recipe for disaster as we saw with The Peanuts Movie. Maybe there’s a chance that this will turn out better than the trailers indicate? Yeah… I doubt it too, but let’s find out anyway!!
The movie follows the wacky adventures of our roguish hero Peter Rabbit (James Corden) who finds an endless deal of fulfillment in stealing other people’s stuff! In particular he just LOVES stealing vegetables from the garden Old Man McGregor (Sam Neill) and does it with such frequency that the man becomes obsessed with hunting down these rascally rabbits; by which I mean chopping their heads off, stripping the meat from their bones and baking them into a pie so that he can consume his most hated of enemies. CLEARLY this is a healthy relationship that Peter and his family of similarly roguish rabbits (Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, and Colin Moody) had developed with the guy, but it all becomes moot when the dude keels over and dies right as he’s about to snap Peter’s neck. In case you were wondering, yes; this is indeed a kid’s movie. So now that the old man is dead, the rabbits as well as the other woodland critters can finally take his garden for themselves, sleep in his bed, and poop on his dining room table, right? Well… kind of. At least for a little bit. See, what the animals don’t know is that there is another McGregor who’s the one that ACTUALLY gets the house and he’s coming by to fix the place up and sell it for tidy little profit. This new McGregor named Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) may not be as blood thirsty (at least at first), but is much faster and much cleverer than his great uncle was, and this means that Peter is gonna have to work TWICE as hard to get those vegetables and may have to go so far as to risk everything he holds dear in this battle of wills; one of which is McGregor’s neighbor Bea who is nice to the rabbits but also gets caught right in the middle of this feud between man and rabbit! Will Peter be able to claim what he CLEARLY feels is rightfully his? Will Thomas completely lose his mind trying to stop a few measly rabbits from somehow destroying his life? How did they manage to fit THIS much violence in a movie about talking rabbits that doesn’t have Bugs Bunny in it!?
Well… I’ve certainly seen worse! Look, the thing about this movie that I want to be VERY clear about is that I do consider this to be a LEGITIMATE children’s film as opposed to the cynical marketing exercises we often get such as the horrifying Emoji Movie or even those first two Smurfs movies before they got it right with The Lost Village. Unlike with those kinds of films, I can tell that there was sincerity in here and that the filmmakers were trying to make an entertaining movie first and foremost. Now having said that, does this make it a GOOD version of that kind of sincere film making? Eh… no. Not really. It’s FINE I guess and it has a few bright spots here and there (*cough* Domhnall Gleeson *cough*), but it is an inconsistent mess in pretty much all areas of its production; from its structure, characters, and ESPECIALLY its tone. Now that does lead to some SURPRISING moments which you don’t often get from a kid’s movie, but despite the occasional WHAT THE HECK moment, the thing still manages to drag as the lack of a solid narrative to grab a hold of slows the pacing down to a crawl. Its closest comparison would probably be Monster Trucks from last year; a movie that was similarly ambitious while also being inexorably flawed, and yet neither of them couldn’t really get me upset or all that annoyed. Maybe it’s that little bit of extra ambition you can see eking out of both productions or maybe it’s how both films have a surprising disregard for human life, but I’d honestly take these over plenty of other kids movies; even if neither one STILL doesn’t hold a candle to actually GOOD ones.
This movie really has no clue what it wants to be as it is one of the most totally inconsistent films that is PRESUMABLY aimed at a younger audience that I’ve seen in quite some time. I don’t know how other people, especially kids, will feel about this, but I found Peter to be a SHOCKINGLY awful person… rabbit… whatever. I mean he straight up murders a guy by giving him a heart attack and then proceeds to trash the dude’s house as he’s being carted off to the morgue! A bit morbid, don’t you think!? Oh, but it doesn’t end there! Once the dude’s nephew shows up to clean up the house, Peter starts to plan elaborate schemes to murder this guy too! You could argue that killing off the older dude was an accident, but this is straight up pre-meditated! Peter is so selfish and downright cruel at times that it’s hard to root for him, even if the point of the movie is for him to learn NOT to act that way, which means that his arc did very little to hold my interest which is a problem considering it’s the crux of the entire screenplay. Now the silver lining to this is that we get some REALLY weird and out of place moments that at least make this bizarre creation somewhat memorable whenever it strays too far into dark absurdity. In one scene the rabbits are pulling the old RAKE TO THE FACE gag on Domhnall Gleeson, and then in another they’re trying to explode his heart with absurdly high electrical shocks! There’s a rather well executed bit in this movie that plays out like a vaudevillian version of a shell game, but the stakes involved (the murdering of one of our main characters) make the whole thing that much more disturbing! THERE ARE BOMBS IN THIS MOVIE! LOTS OF BOMBS THAT CAUSE LOTS OF DESTRUCTION!! And this is all over a pissing match between a dude and a rabbit!? Hell, I’d almost give it credit for being a dark reimagining of a Bugs Bunny cartoon if they had stuck with that direction, but sadly the film spends most of its time still feeling like a typical kid’s film; mostly bland and with a lot of inane distractions.
On the less FUN side of the film’s problems with consistency, it never really manages to establish the world in which the characters exist and so certain things are kept extremely vague or are outright contracted at several points in the movie. The most prominent of course being the anthropomorphization of the animals who are SOMETIMES treated like actual animals, but then the movie will make a joke out of how NOT animal like they are. Can the animals actually talk? Do they move like real animals or like people? It all depends on which scene you’re watching because the movie can’t be bothered to set some ground rules; going so far as to use a REALLY corny excuse for one character being able to understand Peter in the third act of this movie and then never understand them again. This lack of consistency also extends to the story telling as the film very awkwardly dumps exposition throughout the first act of the movie (we get a detailed explanation of what happened to their father, but the mother is hand waved with a single line) and there’s even a narration that comes and goes without any real rhyme or reason other than to fill in a few gaps in the plot during post-production. The battle between Thomas and Peter, despite being completely ridiculous, is pretty engaging which is good because it’s the focal point of the movie, but everything around it just kind of stumbles about and never really goes anywhere and only serves to flesh out a world that barely feels relevant to the Looney Tunes knock off story they’re trying to tell.
If there is one aspect that I consistently liked, it was Domhnall Gleeson who REALLY throws his all into the performance no matter how goofy and humiliating the end product is. The guy is a real champ here and honestly has the most relatable and sympathetic story of anyone in this. Okay, he’s a BIT too eager to start killing animals for my taste, even if they ARE constantly wrecking things, but he’s got some real depth to him that you wouldn’t expect from a non-CGI character in a movie like this. I liked every scene he was in and he even elevated the performances of the rabbits whenever he was interacting with them; all of whom are well animated and have solid voice acting but can be a bit cloying when left to their own devices. Rose Byrne sadly doesn’t have much to do here other than to be someone our two male leads fight over and to be utterly clueless about everything going on around her, but she does what she can with the role given and certainly shines whenever the film deigns to give her a chance to. Still, this is absolutely Domhnall Gleeson’s movie through and through despite the title of the movie saying otherwise, and if there’s ONE reason to see this movie it’s because of him and his performance. Without it, this would be absolutely insufferable to sit through instead of just mostly humdrum.
I honestly can’t muster much passion for this movie either way and found it flip constantly between being utterly tedious and amusingly offbeat. It has talent behind it from its really great cast to its solid animation team, but the whole package just never really comes together into a cohesive narrative and often relies on weak gags to try and carry things between plot points. I wouldn’t really recommend seeing it in the theater for most people, but for those who enjoy films aimed at all ages or are looking for a decent example of CGI characters interacting with live action actors… well I heard that Paddington 2 is pretty good, but if you’ve seen that already I guess this could be classified as “good enough”. If the movie had ended with a few more murders though, I might have bumped it up a few points!