- Product Rating -

Peter Rabbit

| February 9, 2018

I’m not sure who the Freud of modern day film theory would be, I’m sure that their assessment of the art would include the idea of Paddington Envy. The breakout critical success of a children’s book adaptation was rather unprecedented for a CG/live-action hybrid, but with such success comes a bevy of imitations. And while imitations are of varying quality, their reliance on clichés and a nonstop licensed soundtrack of pop songs remains intact with Peter Rabbit, which may not be a catastrophe, but the avoidance of failure isn’t indicative of quality either. Instead, this jaunt is closer to Hop. Remember Hop? Exactly.

The film follows the titular rabbit (voiced by James Cordon), the mischievous leader of a pack of amorphous fluffy friends, who all spend their time annoying nearby garden owner Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill) and getting unconditional love from Bea (Rose Byrne). One day while chasing the rabbits, McGregor has a heart attack and dies, leading his great nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) to travel from London to the country in order to refurbish and sell the house. In the process, he strikes up an unlikely romance with Bea, much to the dismay of the animals. As such, the entirety of the film is essentially a bunch of rabbits trying to kill a man who behaves like he always has a carrot up his backside.

What does work here is due to Gleeson and Byrne, the former channeling the comical stiffness of General Hux and the latter being a capable and charming everywoman. The supporting cast is unreasonably stacked, featuring the voices of Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, Sia, and more, but their work is largely for naught in the interchangeability of their respective characters and how the script uses them. Similarly, the direction from Will Gluck (Easy A) is sometimes appreciable in its energy, but that energy can be quite abrasive. So much of the film screams “studio cash grab”, only making half-baked attempts to give off illusions of subverting expectations.

The script from Gluck and Rob Lieber fully relies one-liners referencing the clichés that the film hinges on, regularly pulling the “but this isn’t that kind of story” gag while being that exact kind of story. There are flippant comments about characters having certain traits and children’s films using certain beats at a predictable pace, but Peter Rabbit is simply an exercise in having its carrot cake and eating it too. This is, all the while, accompanied by a wall-to-wall soundtrack of pop music, the songs chosen without much cleverness or surprise. A bouncy score is playing when an identifiable track isn’t, digging the foundations for such wacky shenanigans and then burying them in layers upon layers of concrete.

Luckily, there are a few gags that happen to land. Virtually all of those gags are inconsequential and irrelevant to the story, but they manage to perk up the audience’s ears. The blend of computer effects and live action is seamless, save for one or two appearances of a deer that seems to be in a different dimension than the rest of the characters. However, it isn’t as if Peter Menzie Jr.’s (Gods of Egypt, Abduction) cinematography really encourages viewers to lay their eyes directly on the screen at all times, regularly maintaining the bright, slightly shallow look that has become synonymous with comparable fare.

Peter Rabbit is not a film to elicit strong reactions; that would largely be because it doesn’t try much of anything. That isn’t to say that it encourages any sort of seething hatred in viewers above the age of ten, but it also isn’t likely to do much of anything for the crowd, either. It’s a babysitting movie, the kind that’s used to distract small children for a (repetitive and somewhat lengthy) 93 minutes—or 85 minutes excluding credits. Nevertheless, the children that were in the theater were quite silent. Everyone in the audience simply sat there, which is what the film did as well.

About the Author:

Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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