The dearly beloved books by Beatrix Potter have been capturing reader's imaginations, young and old, for many decades since its beginnings in 1902, and the concept of movie adaptation has long existed since 1936 when Walt Disney himself approached creator Beatrix Potter about adapting her books into an animated feature film. Without any hesitation, Potter said no, but regardless of what form Disney's version would've turned out like, it sure as hell would've been a million times more rewarding than Sony's latest attempt with the disgraceful mess that is Peter Rabbit.
Will Gluck, the director and co-writer of this ‘thing’, has had something of a bumpy filmography with the terrible Fired Up!, the excellent Easy A, the enjoyable Friends With Benefits, and the huge misfire that was the Annie remake, but to this reviewer, Peter Rabbit was the one that was the most hateful since it serves as the dictionary definition of how not to adapt a beloved book series to the screen. The ‘story’ is about Thomas McGregor, a snooty, uptight manager of the toy department at Harrods (expect a lot of product placement!), who has inherited the farm of his great-uncle, Mr. McGregor, who suffered a fatal heart attack. However, Thomas has also inherited his great-uncle’s disdain towards animals, and territorial warfare erupts between human and animals led by Peter Rabbit himself, who is also bitterly jealous of Thomas' attraction to next-door neighbour and Peter's mother figure Bea, who is meant to be a modernised personification of Beatrix herself (yeah, right!).
The signs of doom were already present in the ugly marketing campaign, which all proclaimed that were basically screaming, ‘this is a cool and hip Beatrix Potter movie with attitude!’, which gives off this smug, cynical quality that feels like such a huge misrepresentation of that book series and what makes it so beloved amongst audiences. It even has something of a dark undercurrent about it, which is established in the beginning when Peter literally pokes the eyeball of the deceased Mr. McGregor to make he was dead and then him and his friends celebrating his passing by throwing an Animal House-style party at the farm. Doesn't that sound like the endearing, charming and funny Peter Rabbit that Beatrix Potter wrote? That jokey gross-out beginning sets the tone for what's to come where you have both Thomas McGregor and the bunnies trying to murder each other with dynamite and electricity, with one already-controversial moment involving blackberries that the movie thinks is hilarious and clever when it is anything but. In fact, there was not a single laugh to be found in this movie, which is not surprising considering that this movie involves butt jokes, crotch shots and modern-slang speak, plus a good selection of pop songs just for good measure. Yay?
However, what's the most problematic is the characterisation of the titular Peter Rabbit who is not the innocent yet rebellious little rabbit, but is instead a straight-up jerk. He's constantly arrogant, brash, lying, smug, is mean and showing off towards his sweet cousin/partner in crime Benjamin Bunny, and takes his revenge against the McGregors way too far. Our hero everybody! Yes, the narrative tries to make us feel bad for him because of his tragic backstory and that he's supposed to learn his lesson by the end, but it didn't feel earned because of how obnoxious Peter is in this film. In regards to James Corden's casting (or rather miscasting), well, let's just say that if you thought him embracing Sean Spicer was a career-low, you've seen nothing yet.
If there are any positives to be found, the first of which is that, on a visual level, the movie looks gorgeous to behold, full of vibrancy and richness in texture that captures the visual aesthetic of Potter's novels. There are two animated sequences that are highly reminiscent of both the books' beautiful illustrations and the excellent TV series, even though that will only make you wish that you were watching that type of movie. The mixture of live-action and CGI is done remarkably well and hats off to the visual effects team for bringing the iconic animals to life with exceptional style. Finally, both Domhnall Gleeson and Rose Byrne are by far and away the best aspects about the movie as both give off humorously spirited performances, and it's an absolute shame to see their talents go to waste here as both of them clearly belong in a better movie. Same can also be said for Sam Neill's thankless cameo as Mr. McGregor, and by the end of this movie, you'll have forgotten he was even in it, which is a sin frankly.
Peter Rabbit is not just one of the worst films to be released this year, but it's also a gigantic missed opportunity. This had the opportunity to be something more, but by modernising the dialogue and adding pop songs every other 10 minutes only makes it more dated, and by changing the source material, it shows that the people who made this movie didn't have that much respect for the source material, especially coming from a studio with a bad track record and clearly having so much Paddington envy. Sure, not everything Beatrix Potter wrote was an absolute masterpiece, but nevertheless, she still got it right, and it's an absolute shame that the filmmakers involved didn't understand what was so brilliant about her writing, about her stories and why they're so timeless because they were more than simple children's books. They're cautionary tales that generations of people are still reading to this day, that we'll still remember for many years to come, and there's an obvious reason for that: they are stories that mould, shape and inspire our childhoods, all thanks to the thoughtful writing, the beautiful artwork and endearing morals, as opposed to this travesty of a movie that is not thoughtful, not endearing, and especially is not fun, and the fact that this shares the same name is all the more tragic. Hopefully, everyone will forget about this movie while the books will live on forever and remain timeless thanks to one Beatrix Potter, a woman who respected children, as well as adults.
PETER RABBIT / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: WILL GLUCK / SCREENPLAY: ROB LEIBER, WILL GLUCK / STARRING: JAMES CORDEN, FAYSSAL BAZZI, DOMHNALL GLEESON, SIA, COLIN MOODY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 5 out of 10