Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, James Corden, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley, Sam Neill, Sacha Horler
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The charming Peter Rabbit inventively drags a British classic kicking (and hopping) into the modern world.
One of the most charming and singular points of appeal of the works of Beatrix Potter – similar to those of, say, Enid Blyton and J.K. Rowling – is their very Britishness. Charming, low-key, reserved and simple (as distinct from simplistic) in a way that American children’s fiction so rarely is, their success and longevity is undeniably rooted in the literary traditions of the country from whence they sprang, or hopped, in this case. All of which makes the latest screen interpretation of Beatrix Potter’s most famous creation a slightly dicey proposition. Directed by a brash American, and created in Australia utilising all of the latest filmmaking technology that a studio budget can muster, Peter Rabbit is miles away from the genteel, wonderfully antiquated picture books of Potter. That said, there is sufficient respect and genuflection toward the source material to rustle up a fair whack of its century-old charm.
While director, Will Gluck (Easy A, Annie, Friends With Benefits), occasionally sets his hectic visuals to the thumping beat of contemporary pop songs and drops in modern humour, he also cannily and inventively employs the original style of artwork famously featured in Potter’s The Tale Of Peter Rabbit, largely in flashback sequences. He also keeps the narrative simple, as Peter Rabbit (voiced with fresh, rambunctious energy and sweetness by James Corden), his sisters, Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), and Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley), and cousin, Benjamin (Colin Moody), try to maintain their home in the garden of the grumpy, bunny-killing Mr. McGregor (an uninhibited Sam Neill), who mercilessly cooked up the clan’s patriarch in a pie! Peter and his family are helped by Mr. McGregor’s big-hearted, nature-loving neighbour, Bea (Rose Byrne charms effortlessly), who finds tentative, unlikely romance in the form of Mr. McGregor’s stuffy, non-nature-loving nephew, Thomas (a very funny Domhnall Gleeson).
Showcasing the extraordinary work of Australian animation house, Animal Logic, Peter Rabbit is a visual wonder. The film’s approximation of the British countryside is stunning, and the colours literally burst from the screen, while Peter and his family (along with an often hilarious supporting cast of similarly anthropomorphic farm animals) are rendered with pin-point beauty and imagination via the best kind of computer generated imagery. The moments of black, adult-friendly humour, meanwhile, are most welcome. While never hitting the heights of standard bearers, Pixar, this winning, seamless mix of animation and live action happily marries the antique charms of an historic classic with the cinematic bravura of today.