Plot: Old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill) has a lavish garden, filled with fruits, vegetables, and other delights, which never fail to draw the attention of Peter Rabbit and his friends, who want to feast on those tasty treats. But the garden is well protected and Peter’s own father was taken when he tried to sneak in and abscond with some food. But Peter tires of the old man’s meanness and runs inside, only to be grabbed up as well, though a timely heart attack ensures Peter survives the incident. With McGregor gone, the garden is open for business and all of the animals go wild, eating to their heart’s content and having a fine time in McGregor’s former home. But when McGregor’s long lost relative Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) inherits the estate and arrives to prepare the place for sale, the garden is once again off limits. Can Peter find a way to win over his new neighbor or will he go too far and incite a war with Thomas?
Entertainment Value: This live action take on Beatrix Potter’s classic tales veers from the source material, but that is kind of unavoidable. After all, most of her work was brisk, short stories and so to stretch the material for a feature, some compromises were bound to happen. So aside from the characters and Peter’s actions having consequences, this movie walks a much different path than the beloved source books. The tone is over the top and broad, with pop culture references, frequent physical pratfalls, and a rather mean spirited tone at times, which are likely to frustrate older viewers and delight the younger ones. The narrative focuses on the rivalry between Thomas and Peter, with Rose Byrne trapped in the middle. The story is passable, mostly just used to frame the comedic set pieces, but things do take a serious turn toward the finale.
Byrne is quite good as an eccentric artist type, while Gleeson does the best he can with the pratfalls and the voice cast is solid, if unmemorable. Peter Rabbit is going to divide audiences, as those who grew up with the books will likely dislike the tonal shift, while young audiences will just appreciate the silliness and humor. The production values are great, with some solid looking CGI work on the various animals. The rabbit designs are good, but some of the other animals seem a little off and some of the visual effects on the physical comedy look weak. But overall I think the special effects are rock solid and the overall production design elements are in order. I do wish this was a little sweeter and not so cruel at times, given the source material and perhaps less emphasis on cheap humor like physical harm and pop culture references. But Peter Rabbit isn’t all that bad and I think kids will have a decent time here. But make no mistake, this is no classic and Potter’s beloved Peter certainly deserves better.