Ah, the sweet tales of Beatrix Potter about a mischievous rabbit are a perfect antidote to the cynicism and hatred of these modern times. Charm and pluckiness are needed, and who wants another movie about characters doing awful things to each other. Wait…what’s that, you say? This version of Peter Rabbit is all about the awful things characters do? There are nasty metal traps and rigged electrical charges? There are physical fights and attempts to destroy lives? There’s exploding dynamite? Hmph, so much for sweetness and charm.
This updated tale of the cute little rabbit gives us a world where rabbits, and especially Peter (voice of James Corden), are masters of vengeance and one-upping their human foes. Peter is older and the de-facto leader of the family since the death of the mother. Along with his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail (voices of Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki and Daisy Ridley), and cousin Benjamin Bunny (Colin Moody), Peter loves stealing food from Mr. McGregor’s garden, but on one of their heists, old Mr. McGregor (an unrecognizable Sam Neill) keels over dead from a heart attack. What fun and charm! His great-nephew Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) quickly inherits the property and arrives on the scene to begin battling with Peter over neighbor Bea’s (Rose Byrne) attention.
The best part of the movie is Gleeson as the control freak whose need for order and a rabbit-free garden runs counter to Bea’s more relaxed ways. It’s also nice to see the villain in a kid’s movie have multiple shades of gray. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t about a sweet countryside romance between neighbors. Instead, it’s one pratfall after another, with escalating acts of violence.
The script has some minor laughs and keeps young children entertained, which may be enough for most adult viewers. The animated characters are cute, and the clever use of the illustrations in Potter’s books to help with the plot is a nice touch. The voice work is good. Still, Peter Rabbit is just another modern-day cartoon that relies on inflicting pain as worthy of laughs. It’s as if Peter Rabbit watched too many Bugs Bunny cartoons.
It’s not sweet and not charming. It’s just another movie about characters doing awful things to each other.