Peter Rabbit Review

Peter Rabbit
When nasty neighbour Mr McGregor (Sam Neill) dies, Peter Rabbit (James Corden) thinks his worries are over. Then a new McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) inherits the house and Peter has a whole new enemy to contend with.

by Olly Richards |
Published on
Release Date:

16 Mar 2018

Original Title:

Peter Rabbit

You could write a complicated thesis about the morality of Beatrix Potter’s most famous story. Peter Rabbit is a story without a hero. On the one side you have Peter, who believes he is entitled to steal whatever vegetables he likes from the garden nearest his warren. On the other you have Mr. McGregor, the owner of said garden, who believes that if a rabbit strays into his garden then it is his right to kill and eat them. He has already digested Peter’s father. Who you side with probably says a lot about you, or your respect for gardening.

The reason Will Gluck’s take on the story doesn’t quite work, although it has many charming moments, is Peter. Or more specifically, the voice of Peter. Because Peter is rather an entitled brat, who does atrocious things and expects to be liked because he’s an adorable little bunny (in fairness, the cuteness of his widdle face goes a long way), he needs the voice of someone innately loveable and scampish. Someone, perhaps, like Taron Egerton, Tom Holland or Will Poulter, with a bit of mischief in their voice, but also boyishness and a hint of insecurity. Instead he’s voiced by James Corden, who is a fine actor but he’s nearly 40 and his persona is one of supreme confidence, even cockiness. It’s a very odd casting choice and makes Peter sound too mature and old enough to know better. It’s unappealing. He looks, it must be said, splendid. The animation of all the animals is faultless and pleasingly fluffy.

It comes off a bit cool, but in the unemotional sense.

The human side of things has been reworked significantly from Potter’s book, mostly to modernise it, and mostly successfully. The old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill), with his rabbit-cooking ways, exits pretty quickly, and ever so slightly too bleakly. He’s replaced by a much younger Mr. McGregor, his great-nephew (Gleeson). The actor manages the tricky balance of making McGregor, a London boy who doesn’t know one end of a rake from another, an angry foil for Peter and a reasonably likeable man understandably driven to distraction by the annoying rabbit. Rose Byrne punches up the role of next-door neighbour who is fond of both boys.

Gluck’s choice to make Peter Rabbit winkingly postmodern, with a voice-over poking fun at the clichés of “this sort of story”, often works against him. Paddington, which the film seems keen to emulate, managed a tone that was self-effacing but sincere. This is often too quick to prick anything that seems even a little sentimental. It’s based on a wholesome storybook with not even a dash of cynicism. It shouldn’t have been afraid to embrace that. It comes off a bit cool, but in the unemotional sense rather than the one it’s aiming for.

The animals are cute and Gleeson is extremely game. What keeps Peter from Paddington-style delight is a self-conscious need to distance itself from its source material.
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