Oh my god no. No one asked for, and no one wants, a Peter Rabbit movie with explosions. I do not want my movie about a naughty but sweet little bunny and his vegetable-garden heist to come with buttcrack and crotch-injury “humor.” I do not need to see realistic CGI animals being physically abused, nor do I want to see even more realistic live-action humans being physically abused by CGI animals. And I abso-freakin’-lutely do not want a tale of Peter Rabbit to become a battle between a man and a bunny over a woman.
Oh my god why? Why did director and cowriter (with Rob Lieber: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) Will Gluck (Annie, Easy A) think that anyone wanted this gentle classic story to be turned into an episode of The Itchy & Scratchy Show pitting Peter (the voice of the insufferable James Corden: Trolls, Begin Again) against gardener Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill: The Commuter, Thor: Ragnarok) and later his relative Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, mother!)? Why did Gluck think it was a good idea to be this flippant about violence and actual death? Why would he give criminal damage a hearty stamp of approval in a movie intended for children? Because this isn’t an episode of Itchy & Scratchy. It’s not a cartoon. It depicts real human beings standing up and walking away from “hilarious” electrocutions, which I’m sure Gluck would argue is not to be taken literally. But Peter Rabbit also features depictions of fractured friendships and misunderstandings between people and animals that get patched up in mushy ways that are meant to offer lessons about how to be a good person with good relationships. (Not that any of these lessons are at all convincing.) Should those not be taken literally? The small children who are the only audience who might possibly tolerate this movie are not able to make such distinctions. For adults, the emotional and tonal whiplash Peter Rabbit induces in the viewer is even worse than Hollywood movies usually inflict.
It is patently obvious that this Peter Rabbit thinks it is an attempt to imitate the success of the recent Paddington movies (which are not Hollywood products). Who wouldn’t want to touch audiences of all ages, including critics like me, who have rapturously extolled the delightful virtues and charms of the films? But Gluck fundamentally misunderstands what makes the Paddington movies work. They do not toss out the very sentiments that make the source material so beloved and so enduring, for one thing. And they do not equate “updating for the modern world” with “embracing cynicism and heartlessness.” Whenever Peter Rabbit has a choice to make between the spirit of Beatrix Potter and the sullen bratty championing of cruelty and disenchantment, it chooses the latter. I have to wonder whether Gluck and Lieber have even read Potter’s books.
So we get small-detail crap such as Peter “smoking” a carrot “joint” — you know, for kids! — and big-picture tone-deafness, such as the film’s overall smug “meta” attitude. (Example: Peter tells a ridiculously obvious “joke.” Then he explains the joke. Then someone else says, “Don’t explain the joke.”) We get junk like Thomas being cast as the villain even though he’s the most sympathetic character onscreen, which happens in spite of the fact that he’s drawn as a caricature of an overstressed, overambitious urbanite unable to cope with the countryside he has come to visit. Poor Gleeson is game, but Thomas is little more than a punching bag. And as a fellow redhead, I am incensed on the actor’s behalf that they dyed his ginger hair brown for no apparent reason. (The voice cast also includes, though they are not aurally recognizable, Margot Robbie [I, Tonya, Suicide Squad], Elizabeth Debicki [Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2], and Daisy Ridley [Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Murder on the Orient Express] as, respectively, Peter’s sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-Tail.)
Perhaps most outrageous of all is how McGregor neighbor Bea (Rose Byrne: X-Men: Apocalypse, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising), a clear stand-in for Potter down to her Potter-esque watercolor sketches of Peter and his animal friends, is nothing but an insipid love interest for Thomas and a mother figure for Peter (because the damn movie has killed off Peter’s own bunny mommy). It’s bad enough that Thomas and Peter end up fighting for Bea’s attention. But it’s worse that Peter Rabbit wants to invoke the real Potter without acknowledging what an amazing, accomplished woman she was, someone well ahead of her time as a scientist and a conservationist, a self-publisher of her first book, and a pioneer of character merchandising who started selling licensed Peter Rabbit dolls in 1903. (The 2007 film Miss Potter is nice but not particularly remarkable, and still an infinitely better tribute to Potter and her work than this movie.) But even she would not have signed off on this nihilistic money-grubbing garbage.