Seeing as how practically everything in every corner of society is the source of controversy and outrage, these days, Will Gluck’s Peter Rabbit has had its own faux outrage to deal with. In some deep, dark corners of the Internet, a handful of folk who don’t have any sort of creative insight, whatsoever, have accused the film of encouraging bullying. So, I had to see for myself. (I’ll get to that in a bit.) Plus, the cast is surprisingly stellar with Rose Byrne, Sam Neill, and Domhnall Gleeson taking on-screen roles and Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, and Sia lending their vocal talents to the film. Not bad at all.
The film is of course based upon the book series featuring the titular character, written by Beatrix Potter in the early nineteen-hundreds. I can’t speak too much to the authenticity of the adaptation as I was never introduced to the series as a kid, but my impression has never been that Peter was as mischievous as he is presented in this film adaptation. So, I’m under the assumption that some creative liberties have been taken with the spirit of Potter’s original work.
Regardless, the story is rather straightforward. When old farmer McGregor (Neill) dies of a heart attack in his efforts to stop Peter and Peter’s family from stealing his crops, the Rabbit family assume that they now have the run of the place. However, when McGregor’s nephew Thomas (Gleeson) takes over, he unwittingly becomes the new competition. But the competition isn’t limited to food as both are also competing for the attention of the girl next door Bea (Byrne) – Thomas in a romantic way and Peter in a motherly way.
The movie is pretty much what I was expecting going in: a well-meaning, sufficiently entertaining, unremarkable story aimed mostly at children with little for adults to latch onto. There are some solid efforts at tickling the funny bones of the grown-ups in attendance, and some of them work to a mild degree. But they work in the I-see-what-you-did-there sort of way and not the that-was-genuinely-hilarious sort of way. I’m sure they came across much better on paper, but the execution of these attempts just lacked punch. Easily satisfied adults who are taken aback by even the most predictable attempts at humor should have a good time, though. For example, if you loved the Sideshow Bob rake scene from the “Cape Feare” episode of “The Simpsons” and don’t mind seeing it completely stolen and rehashed but without the added subtlety of Sideshow Bob’s ingrained resignation to complete the gag, thereby functioning as the source of the actual joke, then hey! You’ll be glad to know that it’s here!
So, the humor is for kids. That’s not a crime. There’s nothing wrong with some movies being primarily for children. However, adults who are fans of Gleeson, Byrne, or (to a lesser degree) Neill will still enjoy seeing these actors work their magic on the screen. They don’t necessarily have the best material to work with, but all three remain their typically charismatic, watchable selves. The film is better for having them and their efforts can be appreciated, here.
Other than that, as I said, this is definitely a movie for children. And, for the most part, they should enjoy it. However, if your kid is still too young to have a 90-minute attention span, yet still young enough to maintain a propensity for shouting every single word they say, such as the kid sitting (where else?) near me, then perhaps you should leave them home until they’re a little older. Otherwise, they should have a good time and you can even have a conversation with them about the pitfalls of jealousy after the movie is over.
As for that “controversy” . . .. (NECESSARY SPOILERS LOOM! FEEL FREE TO SKIP AHEAD TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE SECRETIVE TWISTS, TURNS, AND REVEALS IN THE MYSTERIOUS NARRATIVE OF PETER RABBIT!) If you aren’t aware, there’s a scene in which Peter and his family pelt Gleeson’s Thomas with blackberries, eventually accidentally chucking one down his throat, even though they are aware that he is allergic to them. So, naturally, people are outraged – OUTRAGED – and forced an apology from Sony, proclaiming that the film is mocking people with food allergies and encouraging children to do so, as well, and therefore potentially endangering the lives of those who are thusly afflicted with said allergies.
Just . . .. Just shut up, people. Just stop. The only ones who should be apologizing are those who are behind this manufactured controversy because they’ve revealed to the world that the children’s movie Peter Rabbit is too subtle for them and went right over their heads. Well, at least that’s true of the few who actually saw it. For those who can’t handle the complexities of this mind-bending labyrinth of intellectualism (look for the Criterion Edition of the movie in a few years), this behavior by Peter and his family is not presented as laudable. It leads to bad things that require Peter to reflect and reexamine his own behavior. I long for the day when people are smart enough to understand that filmmakers aren’t endorsing every single act that takes place in their films. They expect parents to, you know, pull their own weight and explain to the kids that Peter was kind of a massive jerk, but learned a lesson and that the kids can learn from his mistakes, as well. So tell me why – why, why, why do I have to explain the moral of Peter Rabbit to supposedly fully-functioning adults who frighteningly walk out there amongst the rest of us in society?
So, Peter Rabbit is fine, particularly for kids. They get some slapstick, anthropomorphic animals, and a moral that their parents can explain to them or maybe the kids can explain to their parents, depending on who their parents are. The adults don’t get as much as they did in Paddington 2 but they get some subtle, could-have-been-funnier humor, great visual effects for the techies, and the talents of Neill, Byrne, and Gleeson. Adults who aren’t a fan of at least one of those three – particularly Byrne and/or Gleeson – will probably either want to 1) hold out unless they have a kid to bring along or 2) watch more movies that star Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson. But, no matter which way I look at it, this was a much better moviegoing experience than the one I had a week ago! Peter Rabbit falls where most movies fall: recommended for those who are already inclined to like it, not recommended for others.
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