Based on the stories of Beatrix Potter, Peter Rabbit sees talk show host James Corden voice the titular, fun-loving, trouble-making bunny. With Mr. McGregor gone, Peter and his animal friends take over the house and garden the old man kept locked up. However, McGregor’s grand nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) soon moves in when he inherits the property. A battle arises between man and rabbit over not just control of the garden but also for the affections of McGregor’s friendly neighbor, Bea (Rose Byrne).
There’s no denying that Peter Rabbit’s target audience is children, and they’re going to love this. What kid, after all, can resist cutesy animals jumping around, dancing, trashing a house and singing (yes, you’ll be forced to once again endure the melodies of James Corden, I’m afraid), especially when the animation is so impressive that it seamlessly blends its CGI characters into the live-action backgrounds? If you’re an adult bringing your child to this, you’re probably wondering if there’s anything you’ll get out of it, and the answer is you’d be surprised.
Humour-wise the film is a bit all over the place as it struggles to find balanced content that appeals to both grown-ups and children. In the end, there is a distinct mix of simple, silly jokes targeted at young’uns and jokes for adults that will go totally over the kids’ heads. The latter includes when the rabbits talk about having dressing on the side to avoid weight gain, a fox getting his chest shaved while passed out at a party, and Peter having a trippy moment while enjoying a carrot, which he offers to another rabbit, who refuses it. It’s hit-and-miss initially but one does come to settle into the film’s persistent brand of humour, which has a very talk show feel about it, likely inspired by Corden’s presence.
Full of pratfalls and slapstick comedy, the movie is reminiscent of such children’s classics as Mousehunt and Home Alone, where the antagonist gets electrocuted, beaten up, falls down etc. If that’s not to your taste, stay away, but in fairness, Domhnall Gleeson might change your mind. Gleeson is intrinsic to making the movie work, his character alternately cleaning obsessively, chasing wildlife, trashing Harrod’s toy shop, getting into a fist fight with Peter, and generally being knocked around the place. As he has done countless times, the Irish actor shows that you can pretty much give him any role and he will not only meet the requirements but exceed all expectations. He elevates the movie to another level.
Another interesting aspect of Peter Rabbit is the surprising amount of moral complexity it incorporates. Typically, your average kid’s movie has a straightforward good guy-bad guy dichotomy, but in Peter Rabbit, you’re given reason to sympathise with both Peter and Tom and, in fact, both of them come off as pretty crappy. Mind you, the likelihood of kids grasping this fairly complex concept is debatable. They’ll likely just take the side of the animals.
Generally speaking, the movie is quite silly and not always balanced. At the same time, it’s so persistently warm and fuzzy that most audiences won’t be able to help but be even a little charmed by it.