Love Beatrix Potter’s original children’s story? Then you may want to skip this modern telling of the rabbit tale
There’s clever and then there’s annoying, and it’s important to know the difference. “Peter Rabbit” is more clever than it has any right to be, but too often veers into the realm of the annoying, like a guy who tells a joke, then explains the joke, then explains his explanation of the joke, and so on.
That over-explaining guy is Peter Rabbit, beloved character from Beatrix Potter’s children’s stories, outfitted here as a wise-cracking, troublemaking son-of-a-gun who loots his neighbor’s garden for sport. James Corden voices the hare, giving him a touch of British dignity that is perhaps more than he deserves; Petey wouldn’t be quite as charming if he was given, say, Johnny Knoxville’s voice.
Peter leads a crew that includes his sisters (Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki and Daisy Ridley voice Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail, respectively) and his cousin, Benjamin (Colin Moody); Rose Byrne is Bea, the sweet soul who looks after the bunnies (and upon whom Peter Rabbit harbors a strange crush).
When Bea’s fussy neighbor, Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill), suddenly dies — an incident “Peter Rabbit” treats with shocking glibness — his house is inherited by his great nephew, Thomas (Domnhall Gleeson), who aims to fix up the home and sell it. But he first must go to war with the rabbits, which yields many, many pratfalls, each increasing in hysteria.
Director and co-writer Will Gluck (“Easy A”) gives the film a manic, hyperactive sensibility, in step with today’s modern children’s tales, but worlds away from Potter’s original story. There are good laughs along the way, but they’re clobbered to death by Gluck’s insistence that you acknowledge them.
“Paddington” and its recent sequel showed how to translate a beloved British children’s tale to today without sacrificing its charm or warmth. “Peter Rabbit” missed the memo.
Rated PG for some rude humor and action
Running time: 100 minutes