Well, color me surprised. Peter Rabbit isn’t terrible. It’s even, at times, moderately funny, slightly charming, and somewhat entertaining. If that sounds like faint praise, it is, but I also expected the movie to be disastrously terrible—like, contending for worst of the year levels of awfulness. That it winds up being passable and with some genuine high points feels like a minor miracle. It might not feel a ton like its source material, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie.
The story is almost cartoonishly simple. Peter (voice of James Corden) is a rabbit who is the “leader” of his family since the passing of his parents. The rabbits spend their time having fun and raiding the garden of Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill). And when he dies of a heart attack (seriously) early on, they think they’ve hit a gold mine. The garden and the home are theirs. Enter Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson), a descendant of the deceased, who wants to flip the property for a quick buck—and won’t let the rabbits into the garden. So begins a back-and-forth war between the new McGregor and the wildlife.
Stuck in the middle of it is Bea (Rose Byrne), a not-very-subtle nod to Beatrix Potter, who created the character decades ago. She’s an animal lover, and also the object of Thomas’ affection. He hides his disdain for them around her. Peter gets jealous at the time she spends with him. That only serves to escalate the garden warfare—to the point that, at a pivotal moment in the film, literal explosives are being used, in a garden, because bunnies cause so much more damage than dynamite.
That whole “feuding over Bea” thing isn’t a love triangle, by the way, much as the trailer made it seem and movie audiences feared. Peter sees Bea as a mother figure who doesn’t want the attention she gives him taken away—you know, like a jealous child when mom’s dating a new man. It’s a battle for attention, not romance; if it did turn out that way, I don’t think the movie would be able to get past that. That would have sunk it.
Peter Rabbit could have been a disaster, but I wound up having a decent time with it.
Instead, we get a movie with a decent amount of slapstick violence, a bunch of witty observations about the genre of film it is—it’s almost too self-aware, at times—a few running gags, and then even more slapstick violence. It turns out that Domhnall Gleeson is really good at pretending to fight with CGI rabbits. He’s a lot of fun in this, as both an over-the-top hater of bunnies and as someone who is trying to hide his over-the-top hatred of bunnies to the only woman within a 30-mile radius.
The rabbits also look pretty good, for the most part. They feel more realistic than the ones in Hop, our previous live-action/animation hybrid movie about bunnies. But, then, they’re also supposed to look more realistic than cartoonish. The animators pulled it off; they look great. The vocal work is strong, the comedic timing is good, and while the story is altogether way too predictable to do much for adults, it’s got its heart in the right place.
Peter Rabbit could have been a disaster, so consider this a review coming from a place of rock-bottom expectations, but I wound up having a decent time with it. It’s too thinly plotted and its characters are too shallow to do much beyond be a semi-pleasant distraction, but there are certainly worse things than that. And when there are some laughs, a couple of decent slapstick action sequences, and good vocal performances—you know what? I’ll take it.
Conclusion: Peter Rabbit is a decent distraction.
Recommendation: While it’s not good enough to be worth going out of your way to see, if you find yourself watching it, you’ll probably not hate the experience.