File Under 2018 #65: Peter Rabbit


What it's about: Peter is a mischievous wild rabbit that spends his time hanging with his three sisters, stealing vegetables from the local garden, and tormenting old mean Mr. McGregor. After his mortal enemy keels over with a heart attack, it seems like Peter's life just got a lot easier. That is until McGregor's nephew Thomas [Domhnall Gleeson] comes into the picture. Thomas hates the rabbits just as much as Mr. McGregor, but it is who he likes that becomes the even bigger problem: the rabbits' favorite human Bea [Rose Byrne]. Peter and the crew desperately try to keep Thomas and Bea separated, doing whatever they can to sabotage their relationship to keep Bea's affection all to themselves.

Unorganized thoughts:

  • Peter Rabbit is a strange kind of adaptation. I'm not really familiar with the Beatrix Potter books, but the film seems to take those sweet children's stories and update them to a quick, energetic, sometimes mean-spirited, and broadly appealing pop movie. It has some clever moments and a moderately successful blend of live-action and animation, but Peter Rabbit is all over the place visually and narratively.

  • I wouldn't exactly call Peter Rabbit dark, though some of its humor is shocking. I'm not going to get on a high horse because I honestly don't care about how violent or creepy the film is. I'm sure there were kids' films that awkwardly pushed boundaries that I watched and loved. Some of the humor was even silly enough to make me laugh -- writer-director Will Gluck has made sharp comedies before, such as Easy A. For an example of the strange stuff to expect, the film opens with a gag about sticking a carrot up an unwitting man's ass. It wasn't exactly hard to see the undertones of sexual assault.

  • Is Peter supposed to be a likable hero? Because Peter Rabbit's version is kind of a dick. Thomas is definitely the villain, and one of the film's major themes is Peter figuring out that he has to place nice with others, but his attitude is abrasive.

  • There are brief moments of traditional animation through a flashback and memories of Peter's parents that are reminiscent of a storybook kind of art style. This is definitely when the film is at its most beautiful.

  • As for the more prevalent use of animated animals in a live-action world, it isn't entirely successful, certainly not to the level of the Planet of the Apes films or The Jungle Book [I'm willing to bet the production budget of Peter Rabbit was much lower, in all fairness]. The worlds blends together best when the animated characters are still. When there is quick action [a majority of the film, for better or worse] and especially when in contact with the live-action counterparts is when the animation isn't quite seamless.

  • One of the worst trends in children's films is the predominant use of chipper pop music and Peter Rabbit is wall-to-wall with a variety of poppy hits. The music ranges from "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" to Rancid's "Time Bomb" [which is cool to use a Rancid song, but it is the most fitting]. The strangest choice, though, is altering songs to fit the narrative of the film. When Len's "Steal My Sunshine" comes on early into the film it seems appropriately cliche. But then you might notice that the lyrics have been changed [paraphrase: "All bow down to Peter, make the garden a bird feeder"]. Anyone in their early-to-mid 30s will find this very disconcerting.

  • The human stars, Gleeson and Byrne, as well as a prominent cameo from Sam Neill, are having a lot of fun with the material. Gleeson, in particular, jumps right into the villainous character without any pretension. The actors don't have the best chemistry, so their romance is a little stale, but they are individually charismatic.

  • The trailers on the Blu-ray were pretty standard selection of Sony's upcoming or recently released kids' films, including Hotel Transylvania 3Into the Spider-Verse, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and The Star. The strangest in the collection was direct-to-video The Swan Princess: A Royal Myztery [yes, you read that right], with animation akin to bad video game cutscenes.