It might not be exactly what Beatrix Potter had in mind for a film version of her classic children’s book, but Sony Animation’s frenetic and entertaining new age telling of the tale works well enough to keep the brand hopping into a new generation.
Actually, this is what you call a live action/animation hybrid, with real humans interacting with CGI rabbits and other creatures in the McGregor vegetable garden. Coming right on the heels of another British family tale, Paddington 2 (read the review here), this one’s heavy doses of slapstick humor and action should keep the kids alert in their seats while not talking down to their parents. As I say in my video review, this certainly is not as effortlessly charming, winsome and warm as the Paddington films or 1995’s barnyard gem Babe, but it does quite well on its own thanks to terrifically realized CGI rabbits and the vocal work of James Corden in the title role. He brings a lovely humanity to the rascally rabbit that makes us root for him in his ongoing battles with the McGregor clan despite the sheer calamity he causes at every moment.
Directed by Will Gluck from his script with Rob Lieber, the film opens like a pleasant musical as birds fill the screen with song much like Julie Andrews did in the opening of The Sound of Music. But the real tone is set quickly when Peter Rabbit frantically hops into the scene, knocking the birds for a loop and getting on with his business — which essentially is causing mayhem for old McGregor’s (Sam Neill) veggie garden. The old man is determined to catch what he calls vermin, but the effort leads to a fatal heart attack, causing no end of joy for Peter, his triplet sisters Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton Tail (Daisy Ridley) and cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody).
But all that is short-lived when the dead man’s nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) inherits the property with plans to sell it in order to finance his dream of opening a toy store right across from his former employer, Harrod’s department store (which gets a big plug throughout the movie). The battles between rabbits and human, reminiscent of a bunny version of Apocalypse Now, only intensify but get complicated when Thomas falls for their caretaker Bea (Rose Byrne), who sides with the animals even as they wreak havoc on everything. A particularly amusing scene is a knock-down, drag-out fight between Peter and Thomas while Bea seems oblivious to what is going on as she repeatedly enters and exits the room during the rounds. Matters escalate with almost too much loony action until things come to a head when Peter realizes he might have gone too far. Corden’s vocal efforts here are right on the money as is the V.O. work of the entire starry cast. The live-action stars also shine, with an appealing Gleeson overcoming the unlikable aspects of Thomas, while Byrne plays as a lovely woman with a place in her heart for both a rabbit and a man.
The computer-animated animal effects are flawless, and that not only includes the rabbits but also the pig and the frazzled rooster too. Producers are Gluck and Zareh Nalbandian. Sony releases the fun stuff Friday.
Do you plan to see Peter Rabbit? Let us know what you think.