It is the start of the summer vacation for school kids. You're looking for a nice family outing. A good movie, perhaps? You notice that there's one that looks like it is about a couple of mischievous rabbits and their cute battles with the humans. Stop right there. You might want to look away.
Peter Rabbit is the film-adaptation—a rather poor one—of the piece de resistance of early 20th century children's book writer, Beatrix Potter. It isn't the cheesiness or naivety of the movie that riles as much as the callously handled script, which strips away the essence of the children's book.
The books written by Potter have found its way to many a home, so much so that The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the first book (1902) has sold more than 151 million copies in 35 languages. For a movie franchise that could have begun in the 1930s—Walt Disney had shown interest in making a Peter Rabbit film in 1936, but was turned down by Potter—the humorous tales of the adventurous rabbit and his family have been in and out of low-key films and TV shows before landing in the hands of Sony Pictures Animation.
The production house took over and made a live-action animated film. The story is from the viewpoint of anthropomorphic animals, particularly Peter Rabbit and his orphaned siblings. The rabbits are constantly pillaging old McGregor's backyard farm and have conflicts with the man.
After a series of unfortunate events, the rabbits are engaged in a new kind of war when McGregor's finicky nephew, Peter (Domhnall Gleeson), takes over the house. Peter and the rabbits are at war, not just over the garden produce, but to win the heart of Bea (Rose Byrne), Peter's neighbour. Bea loves both man and rabbits.
It's a half decent plot, with generous amounts of slapstick and animal-related jokes and puns. But, it is a shame that there are scenes that are a little inappropriate or extreme for kids. Besides exaggerated violence, it is also insensitive at times. So much so that Sony had to issue an apology for a scene where the rabbits poke fun at, and ultimately take advantage of, a character's allergies.
The humour, acting-voicing and the CGI make the movie bearable. The animation blended well with the live action in the colourful backdrop of the English countryside. There are references that kids are certain not to get, so it is made to look like a failed one-size-fits-all attempt.
A simple, innocent good-natured fight between man and animal would have sufficed, but the filmmakers needlessly complicate it. Seems like they went too far down the rabbit hole and never got back.
Film: Peter Rabbit
Director: Will Gluck
Cast: Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, James Corden, Daisy Ridley