Following in the fluffy footsteps of the hugely (and deservedly so) successful Paddington movies comes this mix of live action and skilled animation, based on Beatrix Potter’s famous anthropomorphic bunny.
Blue jacket-wearing Peter (voiced by Corden), his sisters Flopsy (Robbie), Mopsy (Debicki) and Cotton-Tail (Ridley) and cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody) repeatedly raid old Mr McGregor’s (Sam Neill) vegetable garden, much to his annoyance. When he dies, the rabbits and all the other wildlife assume that they will now have his house and garden to themselves, but they are not prepared for the arrival of McGregor’s nephew Thomas (Gleeson), who is determined to go to absurd lengths to get rid of the pesky critters stealing his veggies.
Filled with cartoon-style comic violence – some of which is downright nasty (an electrocution and a fight that leads to a controversial allergy attack among them – see notes below) – this lacks the charm of children’s book adaptations like Paddington and Babe and instead feels more like a furry version of Home Alone.
Peter is mischievous to the point of being annoying, and his antics are thoughtless enough to make him unlikeable even though he redeems himself by the final credits. Jokes often fall flat – including one knowing gag about the rabbits getting a sightseeing tour of London that just feels smug – but there are some funny visual tricks that will make kids giggle, including a fight between Peter and McGregor that halts every time nice neighbour Bea (Byrne) comes into the room.
In fact, a bonkers performance from Gleeson and a sweet one from Byrne are the best elements of a movie that looks great, tries hard to be cute, but never quite manages to capture your heart in the way Beatrix Potter’s original stories do.
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The film has plenty of comedic, cartoon-style violence.
Old Mr McGregor dies of a heart attack early on in the movie, and while his diet is used as a reason, it could be argued that Peter’s antics contribute, which may upset younger viewers.
Peter checks McGregor is dead by poking him in the eye.
Very young children may be upset during some scenes where Peter Rabbit and his friend Benjamin Bunny are caught in McGregor’s garden and it is inferred he will kill them. In later scenes, he throws explosives at them but no one is harmed.
There is one scene in which McGregor captures Benjamin, puts him in a sack and drives him to a bridge, presumably to drown him, which may upset younger viewers.
It is mentioned (but younger children may not pick up on it) that Peter’s father was caught by McGregor and made into rabbit pie. (This was how he met his end in the original Potter story).
Parents should note that Peter and his friends play lots of tricks on Mr McGregor, some which would be dangerous for children to copy, including:
Mr McGregor and other characters are repeatedly electrocuted and it is played for laughs (the rabbits divert the electricity from a fence to the metal doorknobs of the house).
**Peter, knowing that McGregor has a blackberry allergy, throws the fruit at McGregor who has an allergic reaction and has to use an epi-pen.
Seeing old Mr McGregor bending over, Peter contemplates placing a carrot between his buttocks but decides against it.
THE PETER RABBIT ALLERGY CONTROVERSY
When the new live action/animated adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit stories was released in the US in February 2018, it quickly made headlines as groups of parents called for the movie to be boycotted.
Parents were infuriated by the scene mentioned above in which Peter, knowing Mr McGregor is allergic to blackberries, pelts him with the fruit, causing McGregor to have an allergic reaction that forces him to use an EpiPen. As reported in The Hollywood Reporter, the charity group Kids With Food Allergies posted a warning about the scene on its Facebook page, stating: “Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger.”
Within days the hashtag #boycottpeterrabbit began appearing on Twitter, and UK charities also commented, including Carla Jones from Allergy UK: “Anaphylaxis can and does kill. To include a scene in a children’s film that includes a serious allergic reaction and not to do it responsibly is unacceptable.”
The movie’s film company, Sony Pictures, was quick to issue an apology in a statement that also came from the filmmakers, saying they were wrong to include the scene “even in a cartoonish, slapstick way.” The film company also added that they “sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue and we truly apologise.”
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