It’s fair to say that 2018’s Peter Rabbit was a crime against humanity. It was a crass, cynical attempt at modernising Beatrix Potter’s source material for the current generation while failing spectacularly at what made those books so beloved. However, it was inevitable that a sequel should arise, once again written and directed by Will Gluck, he of Easy A and Friends with Benefits fame. It’s fair to say that this reviewer was not looking forward to it at all and, unsurprisingly, expected the absolute worst. So it comes as a complete shock to say that Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is not just an improvement, but an enjoyably decent one at that.
What makes this a superior film is that Gluck appears to have listened to the criticism that the first film received and tried to address this in any way possible, and, for the most part, he succeeds. In the first film, Peter came across as arrogant, irritating, mean-spirited, and just plain bad. So the film’s central plot sees Peter going on a character journey, learning what it means to be selfless after discovering that he is being marketed as the ‘bad seed’. Seeing his journey of feeling hurt by this, then falling in with the wrong crowd, and finally learning from his mistakes was a very welcome development. The subplot involves Rose Byrne’s Bea getting involved with a greedy, big-name publisher, who’s attempting to update her books by having the characters wear T-shirts and sending them to outer space. It’s here where the meta-gags come into play, with Bea even saying that she’d be spinning in her grave seeing her work “adapted into some sassy hipfest purely for commercial gain, probably by an American”. There’s even a nudge-nudge-wink-wink moment from Benjamin Rabbit breaking the fourth wall immediately after that! Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson (who was one of the few good things about the first film) are a winning combination who still provide plenty of charm whenever they appear. David Oyelowo is also hugely entertaining as the greedy business publisher.
That’s not to say the film’s perfect as there are still issues to be found. The first half of the film, while decent, lacks pace and momentum until the resolution, which feels a bit rushed as it scrambles to resolve all the situations as quickly as possible. James Corden is still miscast as the titular rabbit, although there is a good gag about whether his voice is annoying or not. Peter Rabbit 2 is still not faithful enough to Beatrix Potter and doesn’t reach the heights of the Paddington movies. However, it’s more fun than expected, and it’s abundantly clear that Will Gluck is trying to atone for past mistakes, which is something to be commended. Who knows? Maybe the teased third film will be a masterpiece!
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is in cinemas and premium VOD now. A 4K/Blu-ray/DVD/digital release follows on August 2nd