After the phenomenal success of Paddington and its recent sequel (labelled the Godfather II of kids’ movies), the stakes are high for films based on beloved children’s classics – particularly the British ones. One can imagine the pricking ears of Hollywood executives after hearing Paddington 2’s box office gross. And now Sony want a slice, with a new adaptation of the leporine tales by Beatrix Potter.
Extroverted, egotistical and furry, Peter Rabbit (James Corden) is a menace for the country gardener. After the grumpy Old Mr McGregor (Sam Neill) suddenly dies, the party-loving, vegetable-stealing wildlife can’t believe their luck. But the elderly occupant is promptly replaced with his city-dwelling nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) – who is far younger and far more inventive.
Much of the funny stuff doesn’t come from the animals, but the humans. Though some great jokes arise when he and his friends interact with people, Peter Rabbit himself has been largely reduced to terrible one-liners. Gleeson is the most comedically consistent – primarily because his character’s OCD personality clashes with Peter’s desire to reek havoc. Then Thomas becomes romantically involved with Bea (Rose Byrne) – the next-door neighbour (and surrogate for Beatrix Potter) who has a love for art and wildlife – and strangely, the conflict between the humans gains a more attractive pulse than the bunny’s wild and dangerous egotism.
Despite being distinctly British, the movie drowns in sugary Hollywood sauce. The screenplay by Will Gluck and Rob Lieber exhibits various perceptions of life in rural England, but it’s like they’ve never even flown over Gatwick. It’s Britain for Americans. On top of that, the ridiculous soundtrack is filled with modern clubby tunes like Papa Americano and No Place I’d Rather Be – synced to animal twerking. There’s nothing like hashtagged nonsense to bastardise a 1902 classic. It was surprising that Gangnam Style didn’t rock up.
There are things to enjoy in Peter Rabbit – which offers some worthy jokes and striking physical comedy – but there’s no comfortable charm to the story, or the setting, or the characters. The voice and live-action performances are often funny – Gleeson standing out from everyone else, as he usually does – but the material is bland. This film is more Ferdinand than Paddington.
Peter Rabbit is released nationwide on 16th March 2018.
Watch the trailer for Peter Rabbit here: