UK Release Date: 16th March 2018
Runtime: 95 minutes
Director: Will Gluck
Writer: Will Gluck, Rob Lieber
Starring: James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, Sam Neill, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Moody
Synopsis: A wise-cracking rabbit and his friends torment the owner of a beautiful vegetable garden, despite the efforts of his kindly neighbour to intervene on the animals’ behalf.
When the posters and trailers for Will Gluck‘s animated take on Peter Rabbit began to arrive, the internet cynicism cycle began in earnest. The notion of hating James Corden simply because of his existence had reached its zenith and variable early reviews certainly didn’t help. The movie, unfortunately, proves almost all of the cynicism and snark to be justified. It’s an animated comedy for kids that is devoid of all heart or imagination which, in the world of Paddington 2, is simply unforgivable.
It’s true that the problems that scupper Peter Rabbit begin with Corden. In a stark contrast to Ben Whishaw‘s adorable and convincing portrayal of a lost bear in the Paddington films, there’s never any sense that Corden is believable as a rabbit. He’s just that loud bloke from Gavin and Stacey with a fluffy tail and a blue jacket. The rest of the supporting voice cast is a glittering array of A-list talent, including Daisy Ridley and Margot Robbie, but none of them ever get a story worth acting or jokes worth telling. It’s all about the title rabbit in this case.
Over on the human side of things, the story sees Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) turn up at his uncle’s home after it’s left to him in his will. A city dweller in every way, Thomas is initially put off by the dirt and filth of the countryside, as well as the regular scuffles with Peter and his friends. However, he eventually meets the animal-loving neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne) – I wonder what that name is short for – and they immediately become somewhat smitten with each other.
It’s an almost aggressively unamusing film that is entirely hamstrung by its desire to be a hip new twist on the classic Beatrix Potter stories, while paying no reverence to them whatsoever. The script delivers constant jabs of the brand of self-referential, snide humour that was so funny when Shrek was doing it a decade ago, but now feels like a lazy way of giving an old IP a new lick of paint. We are living in a post-postmodern society, in which the earnest, straightforward charm of Paddington and Wonder Woman is preferable to clever-clever snark about how the film is “like a 3D version of a story book”.
There is some credit to be dished out, though. Rose Byrne has been ported across from a more reverential, classic take on the story, which is compounded by the occasional flashes of Potter-esque drawings that appear throughout the movie, in a nod to the source that is quickly tossed aside. The true star of proceedings is Domhnall Gleeson, who throws himself wholeheartedly – General Hux accent and all – into a role packed with slapstick pratfalls and excruciatingly broad sight gags. The jokes often aren’t funny, but it’s hard not to be at least a little taken with Gleeson’s commitment to his work.
But he’s not enough to rescue Peter Rabbit from itself. It’s too keen to be smart-tongued and modern, with garden chase sequences set to ‘We No Speak Americano’, and loses sight of the nostalgia value of its source material as a result. The comedy is tired and more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon than a major Hollywood blockbuster – a problem made worse by the wasted cast and the irritating spectacle of James Corden as a quipping bunny rabbit.
Pop or Poop?
In a cynical repurposing of a brand name everybody knows, Peter Rabbit delivers a bland, by-the-numbers animated comedy and gets it into cinemas on the back of its recognisable title character. That, however, is where the similarities with Potter end and, in the place of nostalgic charm, the audience is treated to overwrought slapstick and been there, done that meta-quips.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.