A film that claims to be based on the Victorian author and illustrators most famous work tells the tale of a London man, Thomas McGregor, on the verge of a mental breakdown after being looked over for promotion by a company he gave his life too. To calm his nerves he moves to the country. There he meets a young woman called Bea, a local painter, and they form a relationship. However, there is a psychotic rabbit with a vendetta against the man just because Thomas owns a garden that this rabbit wants.
While this may not actually be the plot of Sony’s adaptation of Peter Rabbit, it certainly plays as such. Peter Rabbit is played obnoxiously self-aware, though perhaps not that self-aware going by the bullying controversies that surround this film, by James “Emoji Movie” Cordon. He summarily tortures and attempts to kill, Domhnall Gleeson’s highly strung and neurotic Thomas McGregor. There has already been a backlash about the blackberry incident and I have one thing to add, the theatre that I was at was nearly empty, but that was my own fault for going to a 12pm showing of it during term time to try and avoid the most amount of children I could. The theatre was silent during most of the jokes, during the times when Thomas McGregor was being flung across a room by electrified door handless, pummelled by rakes or got his hands caught in rabbit traps, during the sweeter moments between Bea and Thomas. However, the moment that Domnhall Gleeson, a real person, nearly died from an anaphylactic shock as a result of a rabbit firing a blackberry into his mouth, I heard a small child cackle. That was the only laugh, I am not really sure what to say other than…. avoid that child when he grows up and don’t tell them what you are allergic to.
The film opens with a musical number from a quartet of birds in the Disney style, only for Sony to try and position themselves as the new Dreamworks or the anti-Disney, anti-Paddington (which it might have been trying to compete with in america) or even Anti-Beatrix Potter, by having all that whimsy cut short with Peter running through them, knocking them down and a narrator telling us that this isn’t that kind of story. We then get a pop song blaring at us as Peter steals from McGregor’s garden. He ignores his friend’s advice to leave when spotted by McGregor and instead tries to forcibly insert a carrot into an old man’s bottom. We have Peter explaining his own jokes and in one instance breaking the fourth wall when he makes a reference to disability claiming that he doesn’t want any letters, almost like a response to the backlash by parents over perceived bullying. All the while Cordon will not shut up, his endless babble with every passing second revealing that he was woefully miscast. Peter is in need of a younger, scrappier voice, not that of a middle-aged man with misplaced confidence and a motor mouth.
While you could make the case that the original Peter is rambunctious and mischievous, he has never been violent, manipulative or poked a dead person in the eye. He nearly gets all of his family killed on multiple occasions and has terrible plans, though all of them, Benjamin, Flopsy Mopsy and Cottontail still go along with it. What makes this worse is that the film tries to show heart by having Peter’s behaviour caused by the older McGregor, the one that Peter pokes in the eye for having killed Peter’s father. However, because the film has positioned itself as edgy and alternative these fall flat, meaning that it is unable to find any form of pathos for our abrasive hero. The film itself cannot even decide whether to condone or condemn Peter because, while Thomas seriously contemplated throwing Benjamin Bunny off a bridge in a sack he was never going to and, in one of the major fights between Peter and Thomas, Thomas breaks down and says something along the lines of “This is not going to go well for you. I am not a bad guy, but you poked and poked and poked, you turned me into this”. Peter is the cause of everyone’s problems, not Thomas.
Whether my disgust and rage at this quite frankly, painful film, comes from experiencing Potters classic tales in their more gentile book form and 1992 animated The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends, and those being entirely different to this “modern” take on the blue-jacketed Lupine, is up for debate. However, I could make a strong case that in an effort to try to modernise the tales of cute little woodland animals in quaint clothes you have destroyed the core of the tale. This may not be the films intended audience, but these are supposed to be gentle tales of little adventure not about a malicious long-eared lunatic who will kill you and dance on your grave. It is almost like Sony had a film wherein an overworked man moved to the country and had to defend his land from violent animals, but because we literally had a ton of those Sony thought that to exploit an already existing audience they would slap Peter Rabbit on it. In fact, it might have worked to the film’s advantage as instead of talking about how it fails as an adaptation of Peter Rabbit we could talk about it on its own merits. Even the film doesn’t really want to be associated with its source material, actively destroying it when it has the chance, as it does when a tree falls on Bea’s (Beatrix?) studio and it destroys all her paintings, some of which resemble original illustrations.
I could literally go on forever as to why, while the film can be at times a charming romantic comedy, the rest of the time it is another cynical movie from the studio that brought us The Emoji Movie. From its Harrods product placement and the obnoxious tour of London, terrible jokes, bland score and forgettable story, the movie fails to be interesting on any account. However, it is clear that the problem with Peter Rabbit is Peter Rabbit. He distracts us from a perfectly charming, fish-out-of-water romantic, screwball comedy, starring Gleeson and Rose Byrne, with attempted murder and ill-timed pop songs that instantly date what could have been a timeless children’s classic.
You can watch Peter Rabbit in cinemas now