Directed by: Will Gluck
Starring: James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne
Rated PG for some rude humor and action
1 hr. 33 mins.
I think there’s a love affair in British literature between writers and rabbits. Novels such as Watership Down by Richard Adams, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and most famously The Tales of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter all portray rabbits as charming, smart and essential to life in the countryside.
While the kid in me wanted to see the new Peter Rabbit, the adult in me was not disappointed either.
Lovingly connected to Potter’s stories, the grown-up Peter (James Corden) still lives in his comfortable hole in the ground under a big tree with his sisters Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley). They’ve also added a cousin, Benjamin Bunny (Colin Moody).
As usual, the rabbits are still raiding the garden of old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill). He in turn roars at them and threatens to put them in a pie. Having caught and eaten Peter’s father, the rabbits know that he is quite serious. Still, Peter can’t help himself. He has a nose for danger.
What’s different now is that a new neighbor has moved in next door, the beloved and beautiful Bea (Rose Byrne), who has become the rabbits’ protector and mother figure. She is an artist who (using some original Potter illustrations) has drawn members of Peter’s family, including his now-deceased mother and father.
During one of Peter’s escapades, McGregor catches him and exalts in triumph, only to keel over dead from a heart attack. With McGregor gone, the animals in the forest think that the house and the garden are now theirs. They throw a raucous party in celebration.
Little do they know that McGregor has left his farm to a great-nephew, Jeremy Fisher (Domhnall Gleeson), a snooty, punctilious merchant at Harrod’s in London who dreams of getting a promotion and being one of the store’s major managers.
Alas, it is not to be. Fisher throws a titanic tantrum and gets fired when he learns he’s been passed over for that promotion by one of the owner’s muddle-headed family members. In revenge, he plans to sell old McGregor’s property and open his own toy shop next door to Harrod’s.
When Peter meets Fisher for the first time, he learns that Fisher is younger, smarter, faster and meaner than old McGregor. What’s worse, Fisher charms Bea and tries to steal her affections. For Peter and family, this means war.
Director Will Gluck had the daunting task of tackling Potter’s early-20th-century characters in a modern setting. His use of contemporary music as well as some of Potter’s old illustrations manage to bridge this gap quite nicely. While the story may have more of an edge than Potter’s original tale, it also creates its own charm and humor, including a running gag with singing songbirds and a crowing rooster whose expanding family won’t let him sleep.
Gluck’s other challenge was to update the characters without losing their Old World charm. Together with writer Rob Lieber, they have done a yeoman’s job of building a story that is humorous, fast-paced and lightly romantic. Furthermore, Gluck and Lieber add depth to Peter’s openly rebellious nature. While he remains a rascal, he learns a thing or two about kindness and forgiveness.
Parents have so many choices these days when it comes to television and movies. It would be easy to overlook this film as just another CGI invention. But this is a perfect family movie that doesn’t skimp on charm, humor or adventure. Gluck takes Potter’s story, winds it up and lets it run like a rabbit, or as in this film, rabbits.
Buoyed by the music, you’ll bounce along to the rhythm of an old story brought to life in a new format. As some great writers have tried to teach us, rabbits rule; and, yeah, they’re also really, really fast. Go, Peter, go!