Peter Rabbit 2
Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, David Oyelowo, James Corden (voice), Margot Robbie (voice), Elizabeth Debicki (voice), Lennie James (voice)
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…brisk pacing, punchy humour inspired by inner-truths, and earnest performances brought to life by impeccable animation.
2018’s Peter Rabbit was a fast-moving and cheeky (need we discuss the controversial berry scene…) adaptation that delivered a sense of gall unseen in the whimsical pages of Beatrix Potter’s opus.
We last saw the mischievous Peter (voiced by late-night talk show host James Corden) mend ways with villain-turned-frenemy, Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson all in for the ride), but there remains some lingering animosity.
Forgive, maybe; forget, absolutely not.
While the bickering remains, there have also been big changes to the quaint countryside town that is home to Peter and his jacket-clad family (many Aussies trying on British accents, including Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, and Aimee Horne – replacing Daisy Ridley from the first film). The once gated farm that Peter and company stole fruit and vegetables from, is now a safe-haven to all anthropomorphic critters; the likes of which include an extravagantly posh pig (Ewen Leslie) and a spirited echidna (Sia).
Despite there no longer being a need to steal, our cheeky lead is disturbed by his reputation as a trouble-maker. It is a mantle our furry hero shakes off like a cat to water. Peter’s identity woes become exacerbated when Bea (Rose Byrne) and Thomas, now happily married and owners of a provincial toy-shop featuring the successful Peter Rabbit series, visit London to discuss the future of their IP with a prospective (and rather dubious) publisher, Nigel (newcomer to the series David Oyelowo).
Here in London, a downtrodden Peter (cue self-reflective pondering) meets Barnabas (Lennie James), a grizzled rabbit who is aware of Peter’s troubled history. The two rabbits form a relationship based on a shared sense of isolation, with Barnabas fulfilling for the fatherless Peter the role of a paternal figure. Together, Peter, Barnabas, and a band of street animals, engage in an array of mischief; the likes of which are conducted as a series of elaborate schemes and heists.
Like the first film (also shot in Sydney), returning director Will Gluck surrounds Peter Rabbit in an air of twee and frivolity. Peter Rabbit 2 is a film that revels in being self-aware, offering a comical critique on the business of creative success in a time of blockbusters and IP. Humour ranges from observational to goofy, with Gluck and Patrick Burleigh’s screenplay empowering the film to be accessible to a broad audience. It is not just the littlies. This builds to a brazen third-act that feels inspired by the mind of Charlie Kaufman a la Adaptation.
The minor bugbear to be had is in the screenplay’s forgetful treatment of Peter’s development from the first film. While Peter no longer feels that his life is threatened, his surprise (re-)realisation that actions have consequences feels like a missed opportunity from the filmmakers to dig deeper. (Just look at Paddington; he went to prison!) Instead, the biggest arc is placed on McGregor, who having achieved his goals from the first film, becomes overwhelmed by a desire to have children; a desire not apparent to Bea who faces her own challenges regarding compromising her integrity for commercial success. Regardless, those captivated by Gluck’s sprightly direction should see this as a minor bleep on the radar.
By design, Peter Rabbit 2 is served as an energetic romp that contains all the moralistic trimmings akin to children’s literature. While guilty of traditionalism by way of thematic closure, there is ample modernity to the storytelling, particularly through the application of anthemic music, brisk pacing, punchy humour inspired by inner-truths, and earnest performances brought to life by impeccable animation. The culmination of these elements help Peter Rabbit 2 succeed in being both delightful and fabulously British (irrespective of all the Aussie talents involved).