Peter Rabbit

 

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A madcap romp takes the characters of Beatrix Potter and squeezes the charm out of them.

 
Peter Rabbit

A cause for myxomatosis

 

Within the picturesque environs of the Lake District, the indigenous wildlife muddles along very happily. With so much bounty in Mr McGregor’s carefully tended garden, there is enough to eat for one and all. Of course, Mr McGregor (Sam Neill) is none too pleased by the incessant depletion of his crops, but he’s an old man and can hardly keep up with his hungry visitors. Then the rabbits’ most fearless deputy, Peter (voiced by James Corden), causes old Mr McGregor to have a heart attack and all the creatures move into his house. For a while, life is bliss. Then the old man’s young nephew from London (Domhnall Gleeson), an altogether more energetic and agile homo sapien, takes his place…

 

It’s a wonder there’s not a critter called Max the Mad Marsupial. Or Killer Kangaroo. This violent Australian romp generously harnesses the spirit of Home Alone, the 1990 children’s comedy in which our cute underdog lays ingenious and vicious traps for his adversaries. It also calls to mind the 1972 B-movie Night of the Lepus, where monstrous bunnies terrorize the homestead of rancher Rory Calhoun. In that movie, there’s even a scene in which Calhoun lays explosives to blow the rabbits up, replicated here to disastrous ends. Likewise, the rabbits in this version are no fools and repeatedly outwit their human antagonist, re-wiring his electric fence to his own bedroom door, poor man. But there are victims on both sides of the conflict and poor old Mrs Tiggy-Winkle is electrocuted.

 

To put it politely, Will Gluck’s part-animated, part-live action caper is a zany affair. And there’s nothing wrong with zany. In fact, there’s so much inventive slapstick here that younger audiences may be royally amused. However, there is a problem. These anthropomorphic figures are the creation of Beatrix Potter, the beloved children’s writer who has charmed generations with her elegant illustrations and immaculate, understated prose. If there was outrage at the Ladybird Books’ simplification of Potter’s tales in 1987, there will be revolution on the streets today.

 

A roster of Australian performers – Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Rose Byrne, Sam Neill, Sia, Bryan Brown and David Wenham – put on pukka English accents, ensuring that the dialect coach Jennifer White justifies her wage packet. The computer-animation of the creatures is predictably accomplished and ten years ago would have been deemed a technological miracle. But in spite of all the madcap action, and a reasonably witty script by Rob Lieber and Will Gluck, not to mention some comic interaction between the human actors Domhnall Gleeson and Rose Byrne, there is a big hole at the heart of the film. And that is its heart.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, Sam Neill, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, with the voices of James Corden, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Moody, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Sam Neill, Sia, Ewen Leslie, Rachel Ward, Bryan Brown, David Wenham, Alexandra Gluck, Taryn Gluck, and Margot Robbie (as narrator and Flopsy).

 

Dir Will Gluck, Pro Will Gluck and Zareh Nalbandian, Screenplay Rob Lieber and Will Gluck, Ph Peter Menzies Jr, Pro Des Roger Ford, Ed Christian Gazal, Music Dominic Lewis, Costumes Lizzy Gardiner.

 

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation/Olive Bridge Entertainment/Animal Logic/2.0 Entertainment/Screen Australia/Screen NSW-Sony Pictures.

94 mins. Australia/USA/UK. 2018. Rel: 16 March 2018. Cert. PG.