Jacob Richardson | 19/03/2018
A somewhat middling exploration of the classic tales, Peter Rabbit shines most, ironically, when it ditches it’s titular character.
This feature adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale features a rebellious Peter Rabbit (James Corden) and his band of family members trying to steal food from grouchy neighbour Old Mr McGregor’s garden. When Old Mr McGregor carks it, and his grand-nephew arrives to sell the property, the rabbits try to get him to leave too. Alas, the new Mr McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) falls rapidly in love with kindly, rabbit loving neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne), and thus begins a raucous battle between Peter and Mr McGregor in the fight for control of the garden and, ultimately, Bea’s heart.
Peter Rabbit is meant to be a fun, cute, kids film, and for much of it, it is. In particular, the budding romance between Mr McGregor and Bea is always endearing; whether Mr McGregor is falling off a bike, or they are picking wild flowers together, or Bea is painting a terrible portrait of him. It is oddly moving, in the way that highlight montages from a relationship often are.
There’s also fun little scenes with Mr McGregor interacting with others; whether it’s a pair of oddly literate handymen at a hardware store, or employees in Harrod’s. The occasional action scene (such as when they rig up McGregor’s door knobs to shock him with electricity) also plays well, and draws laughter from the crowd.
The problem with Peter Rabbit is when the rabbits get involved. In particular, when Peter Rabbit gets involved. Because while the rest of the furry brood are, often, lovable, Peter is downright detestable. He is a painfully arrogant, unfunny and obnoxious character, insistent on pursuing his own odd breed of violence and destruction even in the face of sound advice from his family. Not only is he astoundingly misogynistic, he is a pathological liar whose disregard for life itself makes one shocked he hasn’t gotten his friends and family killed.
Peter approaches the newcomer in much the same way that he did the old Mr McGregor, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that Domhnall’s character dislikes rabbits. In fact, given that Peter seemingly has exposure to only two human beings, one being the weirdly kind Bea, one would expect Peter to be just as open to a human loving him as one hating him. Alas, he leaps to conclusions and immediately gets McGregor offside. No wonder, then, that the man wants to keep the rabbits out!
Peter Rabbit insists on subjugating us to dialogue about how it is a rabbit’s own natural instinct to eat, playing out that McGregor is in the wrong for wanting to keep them out. Yet, if McGregor wasn’t here, none of this food would be either. By letting these wild, obviously impulsive characters in, he only risks his garden and the longevity of the wildlife that seemingly subsists on it.
Then we get into Peter’s opinion of Bea. In his mind, Peter Rabbit owns Bea. She has shown him kindness and affection out of the goodness of her heart, but no one else is allowed to have it. Bea (in this film a character utterly without agency), is simply a provider for Peter. He doesn’t care about her; all he cares about is that she doesn’t pursue her interest in anyone or anything but him.
It’s a mindset mimicked in his dealings with his sisters, whom Peter begins the film with by relegating to supporting positions in his daring rescue, and who maintain, placidly, the same position throughout. Peter doesn’t see these characters as their own thinking, feeling sentient talking rabbit creatures, but rather as slaves to his every whim; put here on this earth to support his insatiable pursuit of glory, be it real or faux.
Peter Rabbit as a movie is remarkable in that all of it’s problems boil down to one thing; the character of Peter Rabbit. Everything else is absolutely fine; lovely, quaint and adorable in a poor imitation of Paddington-way. However, Peter is a terror; a character bred on ego, misogynism and disregard for anyone or anything around him. This portrayal (voiced by James Corden because why the fuck not) is an abomination in a children’s film. Whereas Paddington Bear is kindly, loving and immeasurably considerate, Peter Rabbit is an absolute demon, risen from hell on his own braggadocio with the sole intent of ruining lives.
If you can stomach the insufferable depiction of the title character, Peter Rabbit is a good bit of fun with some cute romantic scenes, a good mix of adult and child humor, and a number of lovely London touchpoints.