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Blu-ray Review: Peter Rabbit

May 22, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Beatrix Potter’s beloved woodland creatures get their first big screen outing in Peter Rabbit, a modern take on the story of the mischievous bunny in a blue coat, who’s trying to outwit a farmer to steal the vegetables from his field.

This version of the story begins with the death of farmer Mr. McGregor (Sam Neil), leaving Peter Rabbit (James Corden), Benjamin Bunny (Colin Moody) and the rest of the local wildlife to celebrate by taking over his house and vegetable garden, free from the terror that the old man had inflicted upon them.

But they get a new adversary in the form of Mr. McGregor’s closest living relative Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), a neurotic toy store manager from London who travels to the English countryside to take over his great uncle’s farm, and takes an immediate dislike to the various animals who have taken up residency there.  While engaging in an increasingly nasty turf war with Peter Rabbit and his friends, Thomas also finds himself trying to win the heart of Bea (Rose Byrne), a quiet artist who owns a neighbouring property and loves all of the little animals, and would be appalled if she knew how he was treating them.

Directed by Will Gluck, Peter Rabbit is an adaptation that does in its own way pay homage to Beatrix Potter’s original stories and characters, even while making a variety of updates that both do and don’t work.  There is stuff to like about the film, starting with the look of the characters.  The animals strike a good balance between appearing anthropomorphic and lifelike, interacting seamlessly with the human cast.  They have been realistically brought to life by the artists at Animal Logic, while remaining true to how they looked in Beatrix Potter’s original illustrations.  The film also has a couple of nicely done 2D animated sequences that do a lovely job of bringing the water-colour drawings from the books to life.

The film also boasts an all-star cast that really gives it their all.  James Corden does likeable work and seems like a natural fit to provide the vocals of Peter Rabbit, bringing the right mix of innocence and cheekiness to the character.  Domhnall Gleeson quite literally throws himself into the role of Thomas, revealing a genuine aptitude for physical comedy that he has never really gotten to utilize before now, and continuing to show off more of his huge range as an actor.  Rose Byrne is as charming as we have come to expect as Bea, a stand-in for Beatrix Potter herself.

This is not to say that every element of the film works equally well.  Much of the humour here is of the slapstick variety, which is a tonal shift from the gentler quality of the original books, and it sometimes feels a little too broad.  But the biggest problem with this contemporary take on Peter Rabbit is that the title character and his adversary Thomas can come across as way too mean.  Yes, Peter was always supposed to be a bit of a naughty bunny, but I don’t recall him actively trying to kill Mr. McGregor in the original stories, and there is a certain nastiness to the film at times despite the overarching message about learning to make peace with your enemies, which can make it harder to always sympathize with the characters.

But slight problems aside, your tolerance for which will likely depend upon how much of a purest you are when it comes to the original material, Peter Rabbit is a frequently amusing film that does have a certain level of charm to it.  The film is aimed at children but is fairly entertaining for adults as well, providing an easily enjoyable romp that has enough things to like about it to make it worth seeing.

The Blu-ray also includes the new mini movie Flopsy Turvy, a short that focuses on bunny sisters Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley); the featurette Peter Rabbit: Mischief in the Making; and the Shake Your Cotton-Tail Dance Along.

Peter Rabbit is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release.  It’s 95 minutes and rated PG.

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