Peter Rabbit is predictable as it can be, but that’s fine. No one goes into it expecting plot twists. The more important question: Will children enjoy it, and will parents find it tolerable? The answer for both? More than you’d expect, but not as much as you’d like.
Based on the early 1900s Beatrix Potter stories, the Sony Pictures Animation film is a mix of live action and animation, similar to how the studio handled The Smurfs (2011) and The Smurfs 2 (’13). This time, instead of Smurfs, they’ve animated rabbits and an assortment of other wildlife, and given them voices. One of the film’s charms is how self-aware it is that rabbits are talking; you have to appreciate a script that’s willing to poke fun at itself.
Still, director Will Gluck’s film gets tedious as we wait for the inevitable to play out. Peter (voice of James Corden) is a rabbit who loves to steal food from cranky old Mr. McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden. His sisters Flopsy (voice of Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley) are his lookout, while cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody) is unfailingly by his side. Because Mr. McGregor wants to kill and eat rabbits, the four-legged friendly burrowers don’t feel bad for him when he has a heart attack and dies (neither did many in the audience at my screening, it seemed, though a reality check reminds us the guy was just trying to protect the food he worked hard to grow, so being indifferent to his death is actually quite cold).
The animals enjoy having their run of the garden for a while, but then a new Mr. McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) shows up. He’s the old man’s great nephew Thomas, and he’s intent on fixing the place up and selling it. How will his contentious relationship with the rabbits play out? Will he fall for the cute animal-loving girl next door, Bea (Rose Byrne), who’s just about his age? Will there be amusing sequences mixed with some so-so stretches along the way?
The answer to the last two questions, of course, is “of course.” Co-writers Rob Lieber and Gluck do a fair job of keeping the gags creative, but there are logical inconsistencies that even kids will recognize. For example, at one point, young Thomas puts up an electric fence. How are we supposed to believe that Bea, who can literally see the fence from her house, doesn’t notice it?
Sure, it’s a small thing, but it does matter. It matters because the less an audience thinks “oh, come on” and the more it thinks “oh, that’s cool,” the better the movie is. There’s a fair mix of both here, and when the “oh, come on” is for things that could’ve been avoided, it’s frustrating.
Bottom line: Is Peter Rabbit worth the money to give kids something to do for 89 minutes? For the most part, yes, though it’s important to note the film is rated PG and kids younger than five may lose interest quickly. That sweet spot of five to 12 years old, though, should be just right.