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Review: Peter Rabbit fails to give Beatrix Potter the Paddington treatment

PUBLISHED: 12:09 16 March 2018

Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden). Photo: Sony Pictures

Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden). Photo: Sony Pictures

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Will Gluck’s family-friendly adventure based on Beatrix Potter’s eponymous floppy-eared creation is well animated and has some good jokes, but with a woefully miscast James Corden ends up trashing the thing it is supposed to celebrate.

Mopsy (voiced by Elizabeth Debicki), Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Benjamin (Colin Moody), Rose Byrne as Bea, Peter Rabbit (James Corden) and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley). Photo: Sony PicturesMopsy (voiced by Elizabeth Debicki), Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Benjamin (Colin Moody), Rose Byrne as Bea, Peter Rabbit (James Corden) and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley). Photo: Sony Pictures

Peter Rabbit (PG)

**

No doubt the makers of this adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s Victorian creation carefully studied the charming way the two Paddington films managed to update a slightly fusty children’s classic without sacrificing the innocent magic of the original.

Mopsy (voiced by Elizabeth Debicki), Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Peter Rabbit (James Corden), Benjamin (Colin Moody) and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley) in Peter Rabbit. Photo: Sony PicturesMopsy (voiced by Elizabeth Debicki), Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Peter Rabbit (James Corden), Benjamin (Colin Moody) and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley) in Peter Rabbit. Photo: Sony Pictures

They studied and they learned and then decided, Let’s just have James Corden in it anyway. The choice of him to voice for the title role is emblematic of its hatefulness. Peter exclaiming “Let’s do this” is the moment when you realise that this is a crass abomination.

His is a name that looks good on a poster but sounds out of place on the screen. The makers of Paddington had the integrity to drop Colin Firth when he wasn’t working out as the title character, and recast with Ben Whishaw. They knew that what you lose in marquee value you make up for in getting it right.

Peter Rabbit, sisters Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley), and cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody) regularly steal produce from the garden of Old Mr McGregor (Sam Neill). During one chase around the vegetable patch, the farmer suffers a fatal heart attack and is taken to hospital in an “ice cream van with the flashing lights”.

Sam Neill as Old Mr McGregor in Peter Rabbit. Photo: Sony PicturesSam Neill as Old Mr McGregor in Peter Rabbit. Photo: Sony Pictures

The old timer’s great-nephew, Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), who fastidiously oversees the toy department at Harrods in London, inherits the farm and travels to the Lake District to oversee the quick sale of his inheritance.

I’m not precious about Beatrix Potter’s creation — indeed, I have never read it so suspect a lot of this may be down to having a distorted view of what Peter Rabbit should be — but surely some acknowledgement should be made of these characters being creations of the Victorian era: it’s not good enough to have them all talk in contemporary argot and indulge in Tom and Jerry level slapstick.

The humour is often callous, such as the moment when Peter seems to revel in the fatal heart attack of Mr McGregor and seeks to take credit for it.

Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden). Photo: Sony PicturesPeter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden). Photo: Sony Pictures

And while we are on the carp: Potter’s creations are inextricably linked with the Lake District, but because much of this was shot in Australia, there is no sense of the English landscape.

In the interest of balance, it should be conceded that the animal animation is very well done and very lifelike, there are some jokes that are both clever and funny, and kids do seem to enjoy it.

It’s all very knowing and self-aware, which is just irksome if the film hasn’t got you onside first. It’s a self-destructive form of cleverness that trashes the thing it is supposed to celebrate.

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