Peter Rabbit is just plain adorable. I’d only seen advertising for a the film a few weeks ago around the Golden Globes, before all the coverage about the perfection of Paddington film franchise, and I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes. Why exactly was Domhnall Gleeson, well known for playing a simpering villain in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, acting opposite a CGI rabbit? Don’t get me wrong, I think Gleeson is a great actor and capable of being a leading man, but not necessarily for children’s films.
But that’s the charm of Peter Rabbit, Gleeson is allowed to play that uptight, wimpy character he does so well as a foil to Peter Rabbit, perfectly voiced by James Corden. Love or hate Corden on Late Night, the man is built for children’s films. He has enough goofy sweetness for kids and always that cheekiness that gets adult viewers on his side, too. Corden is the only voice in this film that’s truly recognizable and that’s because he’s essentially playing himself in CGI rabbit form and that’s just fine. There are other big stars providing their voices, such as Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie, and Sia, but their voices fit without distraction.
I also didn’t know what to expect storywise, but was pleasantly surprised. I loved the Beatrix Potter books as a child, but there’s only so far curmudgeonly Mr. McGregor can chase Peter around his garden before we get the idea and get bored. Writers Rob Lieber and Will Gluck (Gluck also directed the film), make a very clever choice to have Mr. McGregor quickly die of a heart attack after finally catching Peter. This is where Gleeson comes in, as McGregor’s anal retentive great nephew Thomas who inherits McGregor’s property. He intends to sell it until he becomes enamored by his neighbor, the bunny-loving Bea (Rose Byrne).
Byrne is easy to fall in love with, not only because she’s beautiful but also she plays endearingly daffy very well. The drama arises when Peter Rabbit becomes jealous of Thomas because he’s not used to sharing Bea’s affections and attentions. In fact, he’s used to being the star of the show, and this is set up throughout the movie as the Achilles heel of his rabbit foot. It’s a sweet, easy message to a young audience about sharing, whether it’s treats, the spotlight, or love.
The CGI, which I’m always a bit wary of put into live action films, is much more Babe than Alvin and the Chipmunks. The animals are really very cute and lifelike, even though they wear clothes (a constant running joke). There’s also some very sweet incorporation of original Beatrix Potter artwork into the film. The comparisons to Babe don’t stop with CGI animals, because they’re very similar films. They share such a similar DNA that there’s even a “that’ll do, pig” joke thrown in.
They’re both stories of grumpy men being won over by the clever nature of sweet animals. Both movies have a smart sense of humor that appeals to adults as well as children. The dark humor of Beatrix Potter is alive and well; Thomas has a rabbit foot keychain, and there’s a very funny scene where Peter gets high on his own supply. It’s a sign of a successful kid’s movie where my three year old can find some laughs, and then she also will ask me in other moments where I’m laughing “what’s so funny?” It’s really refreshing to have jokes that will go over the kids’ heads. A few repetitive chase sequences notwithstanding – I get that this is what gets the kids cracking up – but it’s a bit much for what is otherwise a really tight 90 minute movie.