Peter Rabbit Review: English Sweetness Turned Glossy CGI Hellscape

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Peter Rabbit SONY PICTURES

There’s a knee-jerk temptation to start this Peter Rabbit review by bleating on about how Sony’s committed some principal sin with its latest CGI schlockfest —to lament at the loss of my childhood, and extend some maudlin sentiment of grief on behalf of the late Beatrix Potter. And while I retain a soft spot in my heart for good, passionate adaptations of the literature that raised me, and an eager hand for polemics against the ones that couldn’t quite get the job done, I ultimately left Peter Rabbit bereft of any real discernable impression, or I should say one that I hadn’t had already. On balance, films made with children in mind more often have dumb children in mind, and Sony Pictures consistently churns out hot turds. But Sony’s lazy practices aren’t particular to the treatment of Potter’s sweet, minimalistic stories.

The approach is all wrong. Classic properties simply should not have to withstand the anachronistic paint job made popular by films like Shrek, where studios make a pop song and a fart gag to keep your kid occupied. It’s not an intellectual stipulation either—Beatrix Potter’s conservationist adventures aren’t exactly epics, even in consideration of their audience. They’re nothing if not easy and digestible. However, they do survive on a certain English sweetness not commonly found in contemporary works in the States.

Characters like Johnny Town Mouse and Jeremy Fisher belong to a time and a style that doesn’t think too meanly of off-beat simplicity. Implementing pop songs for Peter Rabbit in the 21st century only does well ro belie the impression that Potter’s world is dated and out of rhythm. Which isn’t true. In fact, I think a warm, unassuming film about little English animals that revel in tea and nursery rhymes on lurid countrysides is exactly what we all need right now.

I will say, that with the exception of our titular hero, the cast ends up coming out okay. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I rather enjoyed Daisy Ridley as Flopsy. James Corden, I’m told, is quite good when he’s in his element and I have no reason to doubt that. The problem is, Sony shouldn't make Peter Rabbit cool, and certainly one does not saddle the character with a love triangle subplot—for shame!

Peter Rabbit is not really a character in that sense. He’s an adorable piece of a tapestry. He’s mischievous, but not in a Bugs Bunny kind of way. It’s important that he and all the characters created by Beatrix Potter retain a sense of innocence. If they’re rascally, it should still read as charming. Peter Rabbit is not charming in this film—he’s a wise-talking, insufferable asshole that falls in love with Beatrix.

One does not have to spend a great deal of time in bemusement over how Peter Rabbit got made. It isn’t anything resembling a travesty and if your kids are dumb, I’m sure they’ll enjoy it fine. This is par for the course for Sony; it isn’t the kind of adaptation that picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. Old man Mr. McGregor is young and sexy now. Peter Rabbit is hip and cool and the stupendous world dreamed up by Potter is a glossy CGI hellscape. Welp. Tiddle dee, tiddle dee.

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