The latest seemingly questionable feature-length adaptation of a children’s literary classic, Peter Rabbit opens with a Greek chorus bird quartet making light of the titular character’s lack of pants, then crashes mid-song.
Even with the self-mocking wink at Beatrix Potter’s source stories and sense for comedic timing, the silliness on display at that point is largely on par with other live-action/animated hybrids, many of which soon thereafter embark upon lousy narratives that mar early potential.
It isn’t until a few minutes later, following an introduction to our four-legged hero (voiced by James Corden), when his farmer nemesis Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill) croaks and director/co-writer Will Gluck (Easy A; Annie) unfurls a cheeky montage of the old man’s lifetime of poor health habits that the film’s goofy, borderline screwball comedy tone becomes firmly established.
From there, Peter Rabbit holds steady in its goofy zone, balancing adult humor and fairly advanced vocabulary with well-executed slapstick and high-quality animal designs that are likely sufficiently entertaining for children.
As Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) inherits his great-uncle’s house next to the woodland creatures’ protector Bea (Rose Byrne), devising ways to keep them out while falling in love with her, the jokes keep coming — mostly one-note humor that wears out after a while, only to renew its appeal.
Every animal is funny in his or her own way, from a delusional rooster to a (surprise!) gluttonous pig. But with the focus firmly on Peter, an unidentifiable Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley and Elizabeth Debicki as Peter’s triplet sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail, respectively, and their chubby cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody), it’s only appropriate that the long-eared quintet dishes out the best lines.
Further buoyed by witty references to Babe and a bubbly soundtrack that weaves in Portugal. The Man, The Proclaimers and multiple Vampire Weekend songs, it’s somewhat of a shame that Peter Rabbit can’t just be a romp and that a lesson must be learned.
Fortunately, the moral is a pretty good one and still leaves plenty of leeway for electrified doorknobs and other delightful juvenile shenanigans courtesy of Peter & Co.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Columbia Pictures)