Peter Rabbit review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
When I first saw the trailer for Peter Rabbit, I expected something akin to Mouse Hunt for a picture built more for slapstick than a telling tale of the rabbit from Beatrix Potter's classic book. Boy, was I off. Sure, I expected the slapstick to be over the top, but I did not know to what degree. I expected the pop culture references, but not so lazily shoehorned. And I certainly didn't expect the allergy bullying scene that made a controversy loom over the film.
But what irks me most is Peter himself. As a CGI character voiced by James Corden, Peter is a psychopathic jerk. With both his mother and father dead, he is free to convince his sisters of Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail to help him break into old McGregor's garden to steal some vegetables. Okay, there's no mother to scold him for his ways, but Peter can still learn a lesson if McGregor nearly catches him. Not so. Next door to McGregor is the lovely Bea (Rose Byrne), a woman far too forgiving of the rabbits with a boys-will-be-boys attitudes towards the issue of vegetable pilfering. She also lets the rabbits come in from the cold and feeds them. So what's the point in stealing from McGregor's garden. Because Peter is a jerk.
Not convinced? His insufferableness is further proven when McGreggor succumbs to a heart attack and dies in front of the rabbit. Peter's response: Party at McGregor's house! Yes, his reaction to watching an old man die is to celebrate and trash his place. The only thing worse is that the film slopilly tries to explain away McGregor's passing, that he led an unhealthy lifestyle and deserved to die. Charming. But there is another. McGregor's nephew (Domhnall Gleeson) is a shrill businessman that wants nothing more of his uncle's estate than to fix it up and sell it off to the highest buyer. That means Peter can no longer take his fill of McGregor's place. Even worse, the new McGregor takes an interest in Bea, as she now favors him more than the rabbits. Peter is enraged and sets his sights on killing another McGregor.
This is not an exagerration. Peter is not oblivious to his actions. He has a killed one McGreggor and he'll kill another to get his garden and his woman. Fine, he has pathos for having lost his mother and fears Bea is his last line of a parental figure that is being snatched away. All empathy for this plight evaporates once Peter mocks McGregor's blackberry allergy and proceeds to pelt him with the fruit. One blackberry becomes lodged in McGregor's throat and he nearly chokes to death if not for his EpiPen stabbed into his legs. How hilarious.
I've been told numerous times that I'm overreacting for being appalled by such a scene, that if I hate this I should denounce Looney Tunes as well. There's a world of difference. Looney Tunes firmly establishes that the violence will not outright kill the cartoon characters; bombs result in soot faces and weights result in flattened forms that can be blown back up to accurate size. Peter Rabbit establishes that death is real for the McGregor line and that the new McGregor could die from his allergies.
And then there's all overused cliches of every CGI animal movie; pointless dance numbers, pop culture song rotation, fart jokes, butt jokes, meandering gags, and lots more dancing. The film never works for any of this in the same way Peter never works for his food or to be charming. And I know it's a film meant for kids and that an adult father is not a target demographic for this farce. But past all its cute designs and smug winking at the camera, Peter Rabbit has a rotten core. If Paddington 2 was the sweetest tale of a CGI creature inhabiting a live-action world, Peter Rabbit is the exact opposite in every way.