Someone should have warned co-writer-director Will Gluck about the dangers of adapting Beatrix Potter's stories the way Peter Rabbit's mother warned him about going into Mr. McGregor's deathtrap garden.
He probably wouldn't have heeded the advice. I suppose it's not a spoiler to say neither the new movie nor the trespassing goes well.
76 Cast: Sam Neill, Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson; voices of James Corden, Colin Moody, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, Margot Robbie, Sia
Director: Will Gluck
Rating: PG, for some rude humor and action
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Potter's storytelling was slow and measured, but her gentle tone and lovely watercolors are a point of departure instead of a template for this blend of computer animation and live action. It also doesn't help Gluck that Potter's stories take only a few minutes to tell, and filling out a feature requires more thought than Gluck and co-writer Rob Lieber are willing to devote. There are a lot of frantic sight gags and wisecracks intended for parents, but the story itself feels anemic and dull.
At least Potter made Peter's situation dynamic enough to prevent her tale from being a pretty bore.
On the big screen, Peter (voice of James Corden), his sisters Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley) and cousin Benjamin Bunny (Colin Moody) launch another raid on McGregor's (an unrecognizable Sam Neill) vegetables.
The old farmer winds up tending to that great garden in the sky, so the critters he used to persecute tear through his plants and even his home now that he's not able to chase them off. Gluck handles the question of death awkwardly and doesn't seem to know what to do when he gets past Potter's storyline.
Having a rooster express shock that the sun rises each morning is pretty amusing, and Peter's retinue advises an overly enthusiastic swine, "That'll do, pig. That'll do." It's about as witty as Gluck can muster. The 3-D CGI rabbits are expressive, but they lack the charm of Potter's original artwork.
The house becomes the property of McGregor's great nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), whose eye for detail makes him both a capable worker but almost unemployable. His devotion to order and tendency for micromanagement are a poor fit for life in the country with animals who guarantee chaos.
Keeping him from becoming a genocidal menace is Bea (Rose Byrne, in an obvious nod to Potter). She's an artist who loves Peter and the rest of the menagerie. Her oil paintings are abstract and hard to interpret, but her watercolors look like her animal friends and even come to life when viewed properly. These scenes are the closest to capturing the delights of Potter's stories.
Gluck wisely prevents Thomas from becoming a one-sided villain, but his run-ins with the animals play like a warmed-over retelling of Home Alone. For any viewers old enough to recount Kevin's way of dealing with hostile interlopers, the gags involving rakes get old quickly.
Gluck makes poor use of a terrific voice cast. Having familiar, indifferently selected pop tunes dominate the soundtrack when good singers like Sia and Corden are available seems like listening to the streaming music during an entertaining concert.
MovieStyle on 02/09/2018
Print Headline: Peter Rabbit