Film review: Peter Rabbit would have Beatrix Potter spinning in her grave

Peter Rabbit – young audiences won't care about the disparity between Potter's books and the film's emotionally manipulative scrip
Damon Smith

THE subterranean thumping you can hear throughout Will Gluck's family-friendly adventure isn't Beatrix Potter's eponymous floppy-eared creation and his anthropomorphic clan as they bound excitedly around their warren.

It's the author spinning in her grave as iconic characters are merchandised for quick and easy laughs using the same digital trickery that transplanted the fun-loving Smurfs to the present day.

Peter Rabbit buries the sweet, simple charm of Potter's beautifully illustrated books, which were first published at the turn of the 20th century, and unearths a brash and brazen battle between country and city, laden with pop culture references including a litter of nods to the Oscar-winning 1995 film Babe.

"That'll do pig," squeals one character in Gluck's heavy-trottered picture, which borrows the stylistic conceit of a musically gifted Greek chorus of critters to bookmark each episode.

In this case, four birds trill summery pop hits like Steal My Sunshine by Len and are repeatedly knocked out of their musical groove by the titular "hero in a blur coat and no pants" as he gallops through the flock without a care in the world.

Young audiences won't care about the disparity between Potter's elegant source material and the film's emotionally manipulative script. To them, what matters is four-legged protagonists are undeniably cute and impeccably realised with state-of-the-art computer effects that seamlessly meld technical wizardry and live action.

Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden), sisters Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley), and cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody) regularly steal produce from the garden of Old Mr McGregor (Sam Neill).

During one chase around the vegetable patch, the farmer suffers a fatal heart attack and is taken to hospital in an "ice cream van with the flashing lights".

The old timer's great-nephew, Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), who fastidiously oversees the toy department at Harrods in London, inherits the farm just as he suffers a mental breakdown on the shop floor in front of bewildered parents.

"Get some perspective, get some dirt under your fingernails," advises the store's General Manager (Marianne Jean-Baptiste).

Thus, Thomas travels to the Lake District to oversee the quick sale of his inheritance.

He is distracted by pretty neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne) and considers a longer stay in the country until Peter and co including Mrs Tiggy-Winkle (Sia) and Jemima Puddle-Duck (Byrne) encroach on Thomas's rural idyll.

Peter Rabbit chomps merrily through universal themes of romance, regret and reconciliation, embellished with lively vocal performances and energetic set pieces including a final reel detour back to the capital.

If only the film had more heart and soul to complement the broad slapstick like Thomas being smacked repeatedly in the face by the wooden handles of garden rakes.

We also feel lightly bruised by the conclusion of Gluck's picture.

PETER RABBIT (PG, 95 mins) Adventure/Comedy/Drama/Romance. Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Sam Neill, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and the voices of James Corden, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley, Colin Moody, Sia. Director: Will Gluck

RATING: 5/10

Released: March 16

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