Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill) is a formidable foe to the woodland creatures who routinely steal his vegetables, having famously put one bunny's father into a pie. When the old man drops dead of a heart attack, that bunny claims victory, but when McGregor's great-nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) inherits McGregor Manor, both its vegetable garden and beloved next door artist neighbor Bea (Rose Byrne) may be lost forever to "Peter Rabbit."
The Brits are on a roll this year with live action children's adaptations. While not up to the creative charms of "Paddington 2," cowriter (with Rob Leiber)/director Will Gluck's ("Easy A," 2014's "Annie") contemporary spin on the Beatrix Potter classic has enough wit to keep adults amused paired with realistic CGI versions of Peter (voice of James Corden) and his friends. The war between Peter and two generations of McGregors eventually goes over the top and the romance between Thomas and the reconstituted Beatrix is utterly unconvincing, but Corden and company keep things hopping.
The film announces its cheeky brand of humor right out of the gate as four sparrows sweetly singing about dreams are bowled over by the brazen bunny. Gluck's movie is the type where folks make meta comments pointing out the obvious, like the mysterious existence of Peter and his sisters' bunny-sized jackets, or referencing cinematic inspirations, like "Babe." Bea, who paints hideous modern portraiture alongside Potter's recognizable illustrations (which come to animated life), defends the creatures, but her defense is only effective in her presence.
Meanwhile, we witness Thomas's life as a scrupulously meticulous toy department manager at Harrods in London. When he's passed over for a deserved promotion because of nepotism, his resulting meltdown gets him fired and serves as a preview of his violent temper, a McGregor family trait. News of his inheritance is greeted with a plot to open his own toy store to stick it to his former employer. But what greets him in the country is enough to send him over the edge again as Peter and all the woodland creatures have been partying up a storm inside the house. War is declared, Bea innocently used as both its counterattack and its spoils.
The production, shot on location in England's Lake District, is delightful, as are Peter, Flopsy (voice of Margot Robbie), Mopsy (voice of Elizabeth Debicki), Cotton-tail (voice of Daisy Ridley), cousin Benjamin Bunny (voice of Colin Moody), Tommy Brock, the badger (Neill), Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (voice of Sia), Pigling Bland (voice of Ewen Leslie), Jemima Puddle-Duck (Byrne), Mr. Jeremy Fisher the frog (Gleeson) and Felix, a stag known for freezing in headlights. The Windemere-London connection is reinforced via Johnny Town-Mouse (voice of David Wenham) popping in from another Potter tale when Peter travels to London to right his wrongs. The story stays closer to Potter than the film's trailer indicates, save its introduction of electrical fencing and dynamite. And that romance. Gleeson, an actor who seems capable of just about anything, is aces with the physical comedy, but his pairing with Byrne, a capable comedienne who just comes across as addled here, is limp.
Robin did not see this film.
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