Peter Rabbit **1/2

Children’s flick is amusing but more than a hare predictable. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

“Peter Rabbit” is predictable as it can be, but that’s fine. No one goes into it expecting plot twists. The more important question is: Will children enjoy it, and will parents find it tolerable? The answer for both is: More than you’d expect, but not as much as you’d like.

Based on the early 1900s Beatrix Potter stories, the Sony Pictures Animation film is a mix of live action and animation, similar to how the studio handled “The Smurfs” (2011) and “The Smurfs 2” (2013). This time instead of Smurfs they’ve animated rabbits and an assortment of other wildlife, and given them voices. One of the charms of the film is how self-aware it is that rabbits are talking; you have to appreciate a script that’s willing to poke fun at itself. 

Still, director Will Gluck’s film gets tedious as we wait for the inevitable to play out. Peter (voice of James Corden) is a rabbit who loves to steal food from cranky old Mr. McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden. His sisters Flopsy (voice of Margot Robbie), Mopsy (voice of Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton-tail (voice of Daisy Ridley) are his lookout, while his cousin Benjamin (voice of Colin Moody) is unfailingly by his side. Because Mr. McGregor wants to kill and eat rabbits, the four-legged fur balls don’t feel bad for him when he has a heart attack and dies (neither did many in the audience at my screening, it seemed, though a reality check reminds us the guy was just trying to protect the food he worked hard to grow, so being indifferent to his death is actually quite harsh).

The animals enjoy having their run of the garden for a while, but then a new Mr. McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) shows up. He’s the old man’s great nephew, and he’s intent on fixing the place up and selling it. How will his contentious relationship with the rabbits play out? Will he fall for the cute animal-loving girl next door, Bea (Rose Byrne), who happens to be about his age? Will there be a number of amusing sequences mixed with some so-so stretches along the way?

The answer to the last two questions, of course, is “of course.” Co-writers Rob Lieber and Gluck do a fair job of keeping the gags creative, but there are logical inconsistencies that even kids will recognize. For example, at one point the young Mr. McGregor puts up an electric fence. How are we supposed to believe that Bea, who can literally see the fence from her house, doesn’t notice it?

Sure that’s a small thing, but it does matter. It matters because the less an audience thinks “oh come on” and the more it thinks “oh that’s cool” the better the movie is. There’s a fair mix of both here, and when the “oh come on” is for things that could’ve been avoided, it’s frustrating.

Bottom line: Is “Peter Rabbit” worth the money to give kids something to do for 89 minutes? For the most part yes, though it’s worth noting the film is rated PG and youngsters below the age of five may lose interest quickly. That sweet spot of five to 12 years old, though, should be just right.

Did you know?
Although the story is set in Britain, where Corden and Ridley are from, the film was mostly shot in Australia, where Robbie and Byrne are from.

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