2018, PG, 93 min. Directed by Will Gluck. Starring Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, Sam Neill, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, Margot Robbie, James Corden, Colin Moody, Sia.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 16, 2018
Oh my stars and garters! Sony Pictures Animation’s filmic reimagining of beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter's most famous creation is embroiled in wholly unimaginable controversy. The cause? Blackberries, related food allergies, and even my own perpetually on-person possession, the EpiPen. The offending sequence, in which bunny Peter and his cousin Benjamin slingshot a berry into the mouth of their garden-party nemesis, Mr. McGregor, with malicious intent, and knowing full well that he is allergic to the overripe incoming ordnance, has created calls for a boycott of the film by sundry parties.
But enough about all the foofooraw suddenly surrounding Sony. How well does this live action and CGI take on the authoress’ most cherished tale fare onscreen?
If you’re expecting Paddington-level profundity and whimsical adventure you’re going to be sorely disappointed. That film and its recent sequel set the bar for cinematic adaptation of classic kid-lit ridiculously, wonderfully high. Director Will Gluck (Annie) and co-screenwriter Rob Lieber have instead chosen to unceremoniously update Potter’s decidedly Edwardian 1902 tale to current sensibilities, meaning that the titular leporidaen is now a break-dancing anti-hero with a marginally more mischievous mindset and an “edgier” attitude. Voiced by Corden, Peter still sports his trademark blue jacket although the filmmakers could have just as easily kitted him out in black leather – and you get the feeling that such rascally rebel couture was almost certainly on the table at some point.
Viewers unfamiliar with the turn-of-the-century source material must have had very terribly unhappy childhoods indeed, but the gist of the original remains at the core of the film. Peter, Benjamin Bunny (Moody), his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-Tail (Robbie, Debicki, and Ridley, respectively), as well fox Mr. Tod (Bazzi) and hedgehog Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (Sia) are all on hand. Practically all of Potter’s most famous creations are jammed willy-nilly into an already overstuffed, manic movie. As in the books, they bedevil the definitively non-PETA member Mr. Thomas McGregor (Gleeson), after Mr. McGregor senior (Neill) – ahem – buys the farm. Their only human friend is artist Bea (Byrne), who tries to protect them from McGregor’s antic wrath while still falling for McGregor the Younger’s goofy charm. Peter and his family and friends have good cause to harass the McGregor clan, seeing as how his father was caught and turned into rabbit pie, and so their thefty quest for free food from his garden plot is somewhat morally mitigated.
What makes this agitated update ultimately watchable is the obvious chemistry between Byrne and Gleeson and the honestly excellent CGI animation of Peter and company. Many of the gags, be they slapstick or verbally delivered fall flat, but more than a few connect, and they ramp up in outrageousness as Peter and Thomas go toe (paw?) to hoe and beyond (a literal “deer in the headlights” joke is pretty much priceless). Beatrix Potter purists will be aghast at some points, but if Sony’s modernization of her wonderfully written and delightfully illustrated bedtime stories results in even a handful of children discovering kidhood’s other wascally wabbit, then this purist is satisfied.