The filmmakers will call it updating or reimagining the material for a new generation, but in reality, the film version of Peter Rabbit is just co-opting a popular character and pandering to a modern audience with short attention spans.
More obnoxious than charming, this live-action adaptation of the beloved children’s book by Beatrix Potter tosses aside the author’s gentle storytelling style in favor of aggressively chaotic mayhem filling every frame.
Despite a fleeting nod to Potter’s lovely watercolor illustrations, the result won’t please fans of the century-old source material nor encourage contemporary youngsters to seek it out, partly because it transforms the title character from a mischievous pest into a condescending snob.
The story — tenderly narrated by Daisy Ridley — begins in familiar fashion in rural England, where the scheming Peter (voiced by James Corden) sneaks into the garden of his cantankerous neighbor and longtime nemesis, McGregor (Sam Neill), to steal vegetables for his family. When the old man subsequently keels over, Peter and his cohorts begin to celebrate.
However, their euphoria is short-lived once McGregor’s nephew (Domhnall Gleeson) arrives to clean up the property. He winds up moving in and becomes friendly with Bea (Rose Byrne), who has nurtured and cared for the bunnies for years, unaware of their roguish nature.
It basically boils down to rambunctious rabbits trying to outwit hapless humans for 90 minutes, during which both sides must navigate an adversarial path to coexistence.
The hyperactive film is technically proficient, weaving anthropomorphic CGI creatures into its live-action setting, which will inevitably draw comparisons to the superior Babe and Paddington films, among others.
Peter Rabbit assembles a barrage of sight gags, sarcastic quips, and peppy music montages, a small percentage of which hit the mark. The screenplay co-written by director Will Gluck (Annie) relies too much on crude humor in a misguided attempt to become edgy in a family-friendly way. Perhaps at least it advocates the benefits of a diet rich in vegetables.
There’s also a half-hearted message about animal cruelty, although crushing them in this case would be justified. It seems the floppy-eared critters aren’t exactly cute and cuddly when they’re nailing humans with veggies in the crotch.