Movie Beat: Domhnall Gleeson entertaining in ridiculous, fun “Peter Rabbit”
By Jenniffer Wardell
Rated PG for some rude humor and action
Screenplay by Rob Lieber, story by Rob Lieber and Will Gluck, based on characters created by Beatrix Potter
Directed by Will Gluck
Starring James Corden, Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
The movie is completely ridiculous, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
As anyone who’s watched even one of the movie’s trailers can tell you, the new movie adaptation of “Peter Rabbit” owes a lot more to kids cartoons than it does Beatrix Potter’s stories. It’s loud and busy and full of jokes, but its firm commitment to slapstick ends up marshalling the chaos into something far more endearing than it has any right to be. If you have any kind of affinity for old-school physical comedy, you might even end up laughing.
The movie modernizes Peter’s adventures in Mr. McGregor’s garden, giving Peter a Bugs Bunny-like ability to cause massive hijinks in exchange for piles and piles of vegetables. Here, though, he’s also quite attached to a neighbor human named Bea, a free spirit who takes care of the rabbits and protects them. When Mr. McGregor’s great-nephew moves into the house and falls into a romantic relationship with Bea, Peter is determined both to get the garden and Bea’s attention back.
The plot is, to put it mildly, a complete mess. Though the illustrations from the Beatrix Potter stories are incorporated (as illustrations done by Bea), the connection between the stories and the movie are vague at best. Mostly it’s like someone took an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, likely one of the ones where he’s doing battle with Elmer Fudd, and sprinkled it heavily with a sensibility stolen from the most recent “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movie. There is more than one choreographed dance party in this movie, for no particular reason.
Surprisingly, there are also some moments of genuine cleverness. A handful of the songs are real pop songs with lyrics re-written specially for the movie, often sung by the original musicians. A few of the meta-jokes land perfectly, actually making good use of the narrator, and some of the physical gags are timed with enough care and precision it seems like someone genuinely cared about the making of the movie. And, more importantly, actually knew what they were doing.
The animation is also gorgeous, enough that I wish someone would use the same team for one of those potentially award-winning cartoons that get made sometimes. The animals all come off as remarkably realistic looking, despite the jackets, and the fur is so soft and lush you want to pet it.
Domhnall Gleeson is surprisingly charming as the young McGregor, giving the character a necessary softness while still allowing him to fall into General Hux-like levels of obsessiveness. Rose Byrne is as appealing as ever, and while the role isn’t terribly demanding she handles it well.
James Corden is still very much James Corden, even though he looks like a rabbit, and whether you like Peter will be determined in large part by how you feel about James Corden.
The rest of the voice cast has some absurdly big names in some surprisingly minor roles, from Margot Robbie and Daisy Ridley as two of Peter’s sisters to the singer Sia as a hungry hedgehog. Everyone’s clearly having fun, though the biggest benefit for the audience is the chance for a quick round of guess-the-voice during less interesting moments.
In the end, though, those moments will come along less often than you might think.
(Photo courtesy of Columbia/Sony Pictures)