Director: Will Gluck
Screenwriters: Rob Lieber and Will Gluck, based on the characters and tales of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Runtime: 95 mins.
Australian release date: 22 March 2018
Previewed at: Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 14 March 2018.
British author and illustrator Beatrix Potter’s delightful series of children’s books began in 1902 with The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Peter was a lovable but mischievous creature in a blue coat (and no pants) and the endearing short story dealing with his disobedience and all-round naughtiness quickly became a popular hit. Further books with fresh animal characters were published until 1930, with the series becoming seminal reading for kids around the world. His adventures with his friends and family have now been extrapolated on in director Will Gluck’s and co-writer Rob Lieber’s screenplay for the film Peter Rabbit, in which the little bunnies and their mates almost leap off the screen in life-like renditions of Potter’s wonderful drawings.
Although an international co-pro, the film largely came about because the Australian animation production-house Animal Logic was looking for a project that combined live-action with CG animation; Potter’s books fitted the bill perfectly because they were a) charming, and b) in the public domain. Thus, the action was mainly filmed on a set in Centennial Park in the heart of Sydney’s eastern suburbs and, voilà, a piece of the English Lake District was created in our own backyard. When we first meet Peter (voiced by James Corden) he is planning a raid on old Mr. McGregor’s (Sam Neill) vegie patch. He and his sisters, Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley), and their dumpy cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody), are a team but Peter is the indisputable mischief-maker-in-chief. He is still getting over the loss of his father (voiced by Bryan Brown) at the hands of the irascible old McGregor – he’d been killed by the farmer and eaten in a pie! - so there’s a sense of revenge in his actions. Who could blame him then when, unexpectedly, his garden raid leads to a surprising quid pro quo.
The departure of old McGregor leaves a window of opportunity for the rabbits and other animals to occupy the farm house but, before long, the farm is taken over by McGregor’s great-nephew, Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson). Thomas is somewhat bitter and twisted himself, having recently been ‘let-go’ by his employer and he doesn’t plan to stay in the countryside long. Prior to his arrival though, the house has been somewhat altered by many of Potter’s most endearing characters, including Jemima Puddle-Duck (voiced by Rose Byrne), Pigling Bland (Ewen Leslie) and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (Sia), so it’s in need of reparation before it can go on the market. Thomas’s only human neighbour is Bea (Rose Byrne), who lives in the cottage next door and spends her days churning out amateurish paintings and talking to Peter and his gang. Bea lets the bunnies roam unfettered on her property where they all live in a burrow under a giant tree adjacent to her home. Soon, Bea’s attractive, care-free spirit starts to work its magic on the rabbit-hating Thomas so Peter sets out to put an end to their budding relationship, with disastrous results for all.
Peter Rabbit’s script is full of snappy one-liners and a few clever film references but is a bit too knowing for its target audience of young people. It can also be a tad repetitive; overall though, it’s a lot of fun and what fails script-wise is made up for by the visual delight of the film’s animation. The computer-generated creatures are amazing and fit in seamlessly with the live actors, and the whole is enhanced by Roger Ford’s glorious production design and Dominic Lewis’s ripper score. Children and adults are in for a treat over the Easter season as this is a film for all the family and, within the mayhem, there’s an important message to take home – accept responsibility for your actions and, when you do something wrong, be prepared to make amends for it. If rabbits can do it, then so can we.