Peter Rabbit (PG)

Animation 94 min. February 9, 2018
By Bilge Ebiri
As you might have guessed and/or feared, Will Gluck's screen adaptation of Peter Rabbit departs fairly significantly from Beatrix Potter's beloved children's tales. But while the film does insist on its own irreverence a bit too much at the outset -- it opens with birds singing, "You're only as small as your dreams," before they get abruptly knocked out of the sky -- it offers plenty of lively fun once it settles down, and keeps the pandering to a minimum.

Instead, the changes here have brought the familiar farmer-vs.-wildlife tale up to date in more intriguing ways. The biggest reinvention arrives when the eternal struggle between Farmer McGregor (Sam Neill) and Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden, and tremendously well-animated), the de facto leader of the family of bunnies raiding the man's vegetable patch, comes to a seemingly abrupt end when McGregor keels over dead -- the result of a lifetime of bad habits and, presumably, unchecked and ceaseless rage toward the surrounding fauna. The farm is then inherited by McGregor's great nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), an obsessively organized former floor manager in Harrods toy department. He arrives to find the farm in utter ruin, taken over by a gleeful army of animals. Thus, the war between the species is reignited.

Thomas' struggle against the creatures involves things like firecrackers and electric fences, but Gluck thankfully doesn't overdo the pyrotechnics. Instead, we get plenty of opportunities for fast-paced slapstick, and Gleeson turns out to be an inspired physical comedian as well. With his savage energy and lanky, angular frame, he's a whirlwind of increasingly flustered actions and reactions. I could watch him fly helplessly across a room after being electrocuted all day long.
Will Gluck James Corden, Rose Byrne, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie Rob Lieber, Will Gluck Will Gluck, Zareh Nalbandian Sony Pictures

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