Have you ever wanted to watch General Hux at his most detached strangle the life out of realistic looking bunny while he curses him for driving him to murder? Or maybe you’ve had a desire to see a weird love triangle between a rabbit, a man, and a fiction stand-in for children’s author Beatrice Potter. Or perhaps you’ve just been itching for a chance to watch a beloved childhood character turned into an awkward money grab that no one asked for.
If so than Peter Rabbit is the morbidly violent, patently unfunny family film for you. Except take out the family part because your kids won’t like it either.
Director: Will Gluck
Release Date: February 9, 2018
Peter Rabbit takes the plot of the classic children’s book in which a rabbit named Peter disobeys his mother and almost gets caught by Farmer McGregor and turns it into a love triangle film about a woman, a man, and a rabbit. After the old Farmer McGregor dies on screen due to a heart attack (promptly celebrated as a murder by the rabbits), his younger nephew, Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), inherits his house, and moves in. Much like his uncle he does not like Peter (James Corden) or his family or any other animals. However, he does like his new neighbor Bea (Rose Byrne), and she likes Peter so he tries to like Peter. However, Peter doesn’t want him around and so a host of increasingly violent comedic episodes ensue.
It’s hard to understand who Sony made this film for. The target audience, one assumes, should be kids, but the jokes and gags seem out of place. Peter is a complete and total “bro” with almost no redeeming value throughout the entire film. The slapstick humor is akin to Home Alone levels of violence, which seems out of place for the age group that’s coming to see a talking rabbit. More importantly there’s no character for kids to latch onto. They all talk like petulant teenagers. The children in my screening barely laughed, and kids will laugh at anything.
The comedy is based around two things: slapstick gags and referencing the cliches the film is playing into. The latter fails even more than the former. It’s the kind of almost fourth-wall breaking humor that means the screenwriters didn’t have to delve into any actual emotion because the characters are going to state their emotions out loud as jokes. It can work when you used sparingly, but Peter Rabbit uses it every time it needs to express any kind of character development. It’s not even clear who the comedy is for as anyone old enough to understand what’s being done won’t find it funny, and anyone young enough to think it’s funny won’t understand it.
More to the point there’s no heart, which is a slap in the face to the work that Beatrice Potter created. Her artwork and stories pour feeling off the page despite the plot’s simplicity. Peter Rabbit the movie is the exact opposite. Almost every aspect feels produced by a corporate machine for what they think people want to watch now. The emotional beats ring repeatedly false as the film avoids any and all attempts to connect to something more than whatever box office Sony was hoping for.
The only saving grace to this entire film is Gleeson, whose steadily more-and-more unhinged McGregor would be a stand out in a film that he belonged in. There’s a comedy out there that would be perfect for this guy, but it isn’t Peter Rabbit. Gleeson is easily one of the most underrated actors out there right now — his unrestrained, and wonderfully campy General Hux in Star Wars is a joy — and it pains me that he seems to be forced into delivering a great performance in a crappy film like this.
I suppose I could mention that the CGI is pretty stellar in the movie, but at this point that hardly makes up for anything. In fact it actually makes it all the more uncomfortable. Despite being anthropomorphized, Peter and his pals still move like regular animals often, especially when being nearly killed. It makes those violent scenes all the more jarring. Who knows, maybe that’s what kids watch these days, but even if it is, it shouldn’t be what Peter Rabbit is these days.