Witty ‘Peter Rabbit’ feels a little too thin to satisfy the kids
Ratchet down a peg or two from last month’s Paddington sequel, and you have “Peter Rabbit,” another CGI and live-action hybrid that, in this case, feels a little too thin for its own good.
Based on the books by Beatrix Potter, Will Gluck’s “Peter Rabbit” is set in an idyllic British countryside, where a precocious rabbit named Peter (voiced by James Corden) is determined to raid the well-kept and generous garden of a crusty old man named Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill).
Given that Peter and his siblings are orphans, and that McGregor may be partially responsible for their status, the rabbits’ antics are a bit more justified than reckless, and a young painter named Bea (Rose Byrne) living in a nearby cottage is the only thing keeping McGregor from turning them all into stew.
Things start looking up for Peter and Co. when an untimely heart attack ushers McGregor offstage and declares open season on his agricultural bounty. But no sooner do Peter and his friends move into McGregor’s vacated home than they discover his replacement: a distant relative named Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), freshly arrived from London.
Thomas had aspirations to be a manager at the department store Harrods, but internal nepotism and an ill-timed meltdown has brought him to a moment of reckoning, and now he intends to consider his future while preparing the home for a quick sale — but of course Peter and Co. have no intention of letting that happen.
Eventually “Peter Rabbit’s” plot settles in around a love triangle of sorts, as Thomas wrestles with his growing feelings for Bea, Peter antagonizes Thomas for both encroaching on his mother figure and all-you-can-eat vegetable buffet, and Bea wrestles to understand whether Thomas is responsible for all the craziness that takes place in the garden behind her back.
The mess leads to some fun antics, and the script is peppered with a lot of the British wit and style that has made the Paddington movies so much fun. But the relatively thin story belies a movie that doesn’t really have quite enough meat to justify its feature-length running time, and after a while, its numerous musical interludes start to feel like filler more than entertainment.
Outside of the three leads (Byrne, Gleeson and Corden), “Peter Rabbit” also features a wealth of celebrity voice talent for the other countryside creatures, including Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley and even recording artist Sia. Unfortunately, most of these supporting roles get lost in the film’s shuffle, and even Neill gets only what amounts to a brief cameo in his role as the elder McGregor.
The blend of CGI and live-action feels effective, if not wonderful, and overall, “Peter Rabbit” will provide parents and kids with enough laughs to qualify as a second-tier piece of animation. The verdict for this one really comes down to how many movies parents can justify taking their kids to over the calendar year. “Peter Rabbit” shouldn’t be on your short list but will work fine on a more generous itinerary.
“PETER RABBIT” — 2½ stars.