I know, I know, but trust me on this one.
Peter Rabbit is a movie we all thought was going to suck. No point in beating around the bush on this one, the trailers for the film weren’t just bad — they were cringe-worthy.
The actual Peter Rabbit film, however, isn’t nearly as bad as you might have guessed. In fact, this movie winds up being far more charming and funny than you ever would have guessed.
The problem is that most people will choose to see something else. They see this live-action Peter Rabbit adaptation — which is actually more of a sequel to the classic Beatrix Potter story rather a straight-forward telling — and ask the simple question: why? Why do we need this?
It doesn’t help that live-action films with cartoon animals generally have a bad wrap. While every once in awhile you get a Paddington or Paddington 2 (which not nearly enough people have even seen in the first place), the genre is more commonly associated with the, *ahem*, lower quality outings like The Smurfs, Scooby-Doo or Alvin in the Chipmunks.
Peter Rabbit manages to stay out of the latter category entirely, though. While it doesn’t quite reach Paddington levels, there’s far more to offer in this film than you might have guessed.
We all know the classic story of Peter Rabbit. Peter is a trouble-maker who insists on sneaking into Mr. McGregor’s Garden, despite constantly being told not to. One day he gets caught and almost turned in to a pie, leaving his blue jacket behind in the process.
Director Will Gluck wisely realizes that we have all probably been read this story time and again when we were children and instead decides to put his own spin on the subject matter.
So, Peter Rabbit takes place after all of this. Peter (voiced by James Corden) is still a rumbustious little bunny who’s hellbent on stealing vegetables from poor old Mr. MeGregor (I mean, the man’s just trying to take care of his garden for God’s sake — at least he's doing something that’s still environmentally healthy instead of, like, cooking meth). He constantly enlists the help of his younger sisters — Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley) — and nephew Benjamin (Colin Moody) to do so, but Peter insists that he takes lead on every heist.
That doesn’t last too long, though. Five minutes into the movie and McGregor suffers a heart-attack and dies right in front of our very eyes (shown through a hilarious montage, which instantly sets the tone for the film).
Peter thinks he has won. He invites all of the animals into the garden, breaks down the doors of the McGregor manor and starts throwing his a victory party.
Which is right when Mr. McGregor Jr. — aka Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) — shows up, and a new feud is born.
Thomas never met his great-uncle, but still shares a similar hatred of rabbits. He was raised in London, with no interest in moving to the country whatsoever (he’s only there to sell the house). He’s incredibly OCD, meaning he won’t stand for one leaf being bent out of place in the garden. Which, of course, means he and Peter are going to naturally be foes.
This only escalates when Thomas meets his next-door neighbor, Bea (Rose Byrne). Bea has lived in this neighborhood for quite some time. Peter sees her as something as a mother figure, as she took him in after Peter’s parents died (his father was killed by Mr. McGregor Sr., his mother passing away shortly after that). Despite the fact that she can’t hear Peter talk, the two are close.
So, when Thomas and Bea start spending a lot of time together and suddenly Peter is being ignored, it only makes matters worse. It’s not long before the whole matter turns into all-out garden warfare — a battle fought with moldy tomatoes and electric fences.
And YEAH, OKAY maybe it’s not the greatest sounding plot in the entire world and it definitely deviates quite a bit from the Beatrix Potter story. I get it. Guess what, Paddington felt the exact same way, and we all know how that turned out.
For starters, Peter is one adorable bunny. Animation has come a long way to the point where these creatures look real — real cute, that is. Yes, it’s James Corden and that recognizable voice can take away from the cute factor at times. However, this is still a little bunny rabbit in a miniature blue coat we’re talking about — it’s pretty darn precious.
More important is the fact that there’s actual well-written characterization for Peter. Peter — let’s face it — is kind of a dick. He’s constantly risking his life and the lives of others over a stupid, petty feud with an old gardener. His ego is always three steps ahead of his brain, while concern for his siblings never even registers as a passing thought.
The beauty is that Peter Rabbit admits this in the opening scene. They give him some backstory regarding his parents, and then make his character gradually progress and change throughout the film.
Predictable? Sure. That doesn’t mean it’s not important or well told, though. The progression is all natural and, at times, even kind of touching.
The same can be said for Thomas McGregor. Granted, the face of Domhnall Gleeson isn’t nearly as adorable is that of a rabbit's and he’s clearly set up to be more of an antagonist than Peter is, but there’s depth and purpose to his character as well. He has his own backstory that helps us get invested in his struggles and the relationship between him and Bea is a believable one. Maybe it’s just because Rose Byrne and Gleeson are such good actors/actresses who have some natural chemistry, but watching the two interact had a certain amount of charm.
And it’s funny too. Like, really funny. Granted, there are a LOT of jokes and not all of them land. Sometimes the movie can become a bit too slapstick-y, i.e. the electric fence gag. But there’s also some really clever jokes that will appeal to both the kids and adults — one about a rooster and another about a deer that made me laugh every single time.
Yes, I know. This is a live-action Peter Rabbit we’re talking about. It’s an easy movie to dismiss and trash-on, which I suspect most people will do without having even seen it. I’m not saying it’s perfect — it starts to run out of steam by the end, and relies a bit too heavily on montages and narration.
However, the trailers presented Peter Rabbit as something much different: an unfunny rip-off that would likely rely on fart jokes and pop songs instead of an actual story. Turns out that there wasn’t a single fart joke to be had and the pop songs actually served the story really well. Even better, there’s a story and messages in here that have some weight to them. Heroes can be a-holes. Villains can have feelings and fall in love. The only thing that separates the two, sometimes, is pride — pride that can later be replaced with understanding. Studios, please make more kids messages like this.
Watch the trailer for Peter Rabbit and let me know what you think of the movie (come on, I know you probably have a different opinion, let me hear it) in the comments below.
It's not that bad, I promise: 'Peter Rabbit' review7