Peter Rabbit (2018)

Hare Brained stuff

Director: Will Gluck
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, James Corden, Elizabeth Debicki, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, Sam Neill, Colin Moody, Sia

Hollywood has never shied away from adapting properties to the big screen, even resorting to making films on Disney rides and board games. When it comes to beloved childhood figures, a fine line is walked with respecting what made the character so beloved, and making them interesting enough to carry a feature film. The best recent example is the Paddington films, which has been so wonderful thanks to Paul Kings handling of. Unfortunately, Will Gluck's handling of Beatrix Potter's characters showcases how poor the end result can be.

Peter Rabbit (James Corden) has a simple goal in life; to sneak into the vegetable garden of Mr McGregor (Sam Neill), and make it out with vegetables for all. He thinks his worries are over when McGregor dies, but then the house is inherited by McGregor's nephew, Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson). Before Peter knows it, he has a whole new enemy to contend with, one who falls for Bea (Rose Byrne), the neighbour who looks after the rabbits.

At the centre of this film is a likeable tale, where Domhnall Gleeson's big city worker adapts to the country life, with the change in scenery and the bird watching helping him to mellow out, as he falls in love. Unfortunately, it's trapped within an increasingly convoluted narrative where he goes to war with rabbits, which escalates in being rather mean-spirited. As we initially see Thomas doubt himself about being so mean to the rabbits, it gets to the point where dynamite is brought into play, and an Epipen has to be used. It's possible for the stress of contending with the rabbits to drive Thomas to that point, but the way it's depicted in the film, these elements feel taken from two entirely different films.

At the centre of it all lies the films biggest problem, which is the title character. Peter Rabbit may have an redemption arc, set to teach him the error of his ways, but that doesn't mean he should be difficult to get behind. Through his many actions, this character we're supposed to root for comes off as utterly irritating and unlikeable, constantly getting his remaining family into trouble, and near-death experiences, thanks to his self-centred nature. It doesn't help how James Corden's vocal performance proves grating, but after a while, I would have been glad to have seen this rabbit killed and cooked into a pie. I won't even mention the other animals, as they leave little impression, but at least they're pretty well designed.

The script includes numerous attempts to be self-aware, and this aspect proves to be a double-edged sword. The narrator delivers some good lines, commenting on the way these stories tend to play out, but these are the minority. More often than not, the film grinds to a halt so Peter can point out plot holes, and directly speak to the audience, which comes off as unbearably smug. There's even a moment to address allergies, which feels like a last minute inclusion crammed in, to address the controversy which made headlines not that long ago.

The sad thing is there's a decent idea in here, about a lead who can't get over the loss of his parents, and is afraid his human carer will leave him next. It's ultimately lost in an incessant need to escalate things to ridiculous degrees, where Rose Byrne's Bea is left utterly oblivious to all that's occurring close by (her inability to see Thomas put up electric fences, or hear explosions going off right by her, is rather baffling).

Peter Rabbit attempts to be a heartwarming tale which delivers the laughs with characters worth getting behind, like Paddington 2. By the end of it, I would've been glad for it to turn into Watership Down. Bogged down by a story which keeps rising in how mean-spirited and ridiculous it can become, while fronted by an unpleasant dick of a lead character, it's safe to say that, by the end, this reviewer was not a happy bunny.