More than just a vapid, unfunny kids movie, “Peter Rabbit” is a film where the protagonist in a kids movie brags about murdering someone.
Yes (SPOILER) in the opening minutes of “Peter Rabbit,” Farmer Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill) croaks, the victim of a heart attack brought on by the stress of a bunny family ravaging his garden. He falls dead, eyes open, and Peter not only laughs and celebrates at his good fortune, he boasts about how he killed the old man.
But don’t worry: we have another, younger Mr. McGregor, played by Domnhall Gleeson (of the new “Star Wars” movies), and we get into Peter’s next adventure: playing anti-matchmaker.
The New McGregor is a frustrated toy store employee from London who didn’t realize he had a great uncle, and reluctantly takes the estate he just inherited, which is good because he also got fired from his job because they realize he seems mentally unstable.
A confirmed city slicker, McGregor ventures out to his new property and aims to sell it, open his old toy store, and put his former place of employment out of business, presumably putting a number of former co-workers out on their backsides in the process, because vengeance.
But he wasn’t expecting his neighbor, Bea (Rose Byrne), to be a comely lass. Bea often kept the elder Mr. McGregor in check, but with the arrival of this new, younger Mr. McGregor, Bea turns into a blathering Idiot In Love who doesn’t notice a) her new potential beau’s total insanity, or b) the fact that he HATES Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Benjamin and wants to kill them. So McGregor The Younger pretends to like Peter and his brood, but tries to kill him when she isn’t looking. And Peter, for some reason, does the same, because to simply tell Bea this dude is an unstable jerk…would mean we’d have to come up with another plot?
What follows is a somewhat-less-than-madcap sequence of misadventures that leads to a conclusion you can probably guess, and that doesn’t generate any particularly decent laughs. It’s the kind of movie where Mr. McGregor buys an electric fence to keep the rabbits out, and of course you know that fence will be used against him.
The voice cast is comprised of stars, but few of them get anything interesting to do or have characters that make them distinguishable between each other. Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, and Sia (of all people) are among the more recognizable names, while James Corden voices Peter. None of them stand out or seem to be doing anything that any hard-working anonymous voice actor couldn’t do.
“Peter Rabbit” is a lazy film, one seemingly made by someone who had the rights to the film and thought “we have a beloved children’s story here, but it’s BORING, so let’s do something MODERN with it.” Only what they came up with is hardly modern, isn’t remotely original, and isn’t anything resembling a faithful or even in-good-faith adaptation of the classic source material. It isn’t worth your time, or your kids’ time. Do yourself a favor and buy them the book instead.