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Peter Rabbit – Movie Review

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Peter Rabbit – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures

For over a century, Beatrix Potter’s stories of a group of animals living in her beloved Lake District have enchanted many a reader. That’s a lot of responsibility when allowed to make a big-screen film adaptation. Thankfully, director/co-writer Will Gluck treats the material with the proper respect, while also creating a humourous tug-of-war between a determined rabbit and an annoyed gardener. Peter Rabbit ultimately becomes a lovely and charming little escapade with a solid message about the need to compromise, plus a sweet pro-animal theme to nicely round things out. Gluck somehow manages to modernize the story, while still keeping the film mostly timeless.

It’s immediately evident Gluck has done his research when, only a few minutes into Peter Rabbit, we see Mr. Jeremy Fisher the Frog fishing on a lily pad. However, the references aren’t merely for show as the whole production crafts a believable world for the rabbits and other animals. Setting the film in Potter’s old stomping grounds of Windermere was a particularly nice touch and there is a cozy feeling to seeing the English countryside depicted in all of its beauty, although Peter Rabbit was primarily filmed in Australia. The artists at Animal Logic have done a splendid job of giving life to Peter and his friends. Anyone who has seen rabbits scurry in their backyard will recognise their mannerisms and cheekiness when it comes to looking for food. There are even a few beautifully animated hand-drawn sequences, done in Potter’s familiar style.

The main conflict between Peter and the young Thomas McGregor works, thanks to the writing, the animators and an excellent performance from Domnhall Gleason. Almost channeling his inner John Cleese, Gleason somehow manages to show the anger and frustration he’s feeling at these rabbits, yet somehow finding a little layer of sympathy. He also shares strong chemistry with Rose Byrne’s pro-animal rights neighbour Bea. One almost wants to see a romantic comedy about these two. Peter is cheeky and certainly likeable, but the film still recognizes when he’s in the wrong. Peter Rabbit doesn’t become one-sided in this battle for dominance of the McGregor garden and that strengthens the overall message.

Gluck and his co-writer Rob Lieber inject Peter Rabbit with a suitably British sense of humour that produces laughs more often than not. While the John Hughes-esque slapstick could have been toned down just a tad, Gleason does sell the physical comedy. One sequence where the rabbits rig McGregor’s electric security system is brilliantly choreographed. However, the film does give proper time to character development and putting into context Peter’s continuing obsession to outsmart McGregor. There are surprisingly dark undertones, especially when exploring the rabbits’ past. One truly bothersome aspect comes from the overuse of modern songs. They don’t fit with the on-screen action and is the only element that feels overly corporate.

The immediate comparison one can make is to Stuart Little, which also adapted beloved source material about a critter to present day without insulting the audience. Will Gluck treats Beatrix Potter’s work with a lot of respect and doesn’t Americanize her stories, right down to hiring a cast entirely from the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Domnhall Gleason and the animators at Animal Logic are clearly enjoying themselves and that joy more than radiates off the screen. If this film also introduces younger audiences to the charming tales of Peter Rabbit, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Johnny Town-Mouse (who, yes, also gets a charming cameo), then all the better.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison