When I was a child I have to admit the Peter Rabbit books were not really to my taste despite their classic status. The idea of reimagining them for a modern sensibility however has truly brought them alive in more ways than one. This sassy, funny, fast movie is perfect for kids of all ages though I’m not sure it will help sell the books to a new generation. It’s now available to watch at home on your chosen format but watch it you should if you have any sense of fun or silliness!
It is very loosely based on the books with all the main characters battling with the farmer whose land they consider their own. Initially Mr McGregor is an almost unrecognisable Sam Neill nestling under a gigantic beard but he dies and his nephew Thomas comes to sell the house only to fall for neighbour Bea who cares a lot about the rabbits. Thus while Thomas is trying to get rid of them by increasingly dramatic methods he is pretending to Bea the opposite. Things soon get brilliantly out of hand.
It is a seamless production with the animated rabbits capable of considerable expression as well as blending into scenes perfectly. They talk amongst themselves of course but are still recognisably rabbits. Each is given characters (and handy jackets) that allow you to differentiate. Interestingly Bea seems quite Ok with the jackets even though she has no idea the rabbits can talk, have names etc.
Each of the action sequences- and there seems to be one popping up every three minutes or so- is superbly choreographed with just the right mixture of jeopardy and humour. With a whole army of animals in support, the chaotic milieu is so busy you’d need to watch more than once to spot everything.
The script also gets both Bea and Thomas spot on. They’re both a bit odd- she’s a free spirit artist who’s paintings are open to interpretation, he’s a control freak who’s seen working in Harrods at the start. In the capable hands of Rose Byrne and Domnhall Gleeson they are perfectly matched; Gleeson in particular puts in an amusingly energetic performance. I must admit beforehand I was thinking that having James Corden as the voice of Peter might not work simply because it’s such a well know voice but it actually works terrifically as the actor connects with the character’s youthful abandon. As Cottontail, Floppsy and Moppsy the trio of Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie and Elizabeth Dibicki bring a real variation to each of the siblings as they squabble over who is the oldest or try to curb Peter’s worst intentions.
The film includes some excellent running jokes which I absolutely love including a trio of accident prone singing sparrows, a rooster who is utterly surprised at the arrival of each new day. Best of all is a posh pig who is constantly claiming to be on a diet before scoffing a load of food!
Will Gluck and Rob Lieber’s script is as fleet of foot as the rabbits introducing enough of a modern take to be relevant and undercutting some of the more obvious options yet never forgetting the origins of the tale. Peter Rabbit is, unexpectedly, one of the best films I’ve seen in 2018 and despite a so-so critical reaction it seems to have become a huge success because once seen you’ll love it!