The Napier Mail - - WHAT’S ON -

Re­vis­it­ing a clas­sic of chil­dren’s lit’ more than 100 years af­ter it was pub­lished is an ex­er­cise fraught with traps.

Stay too close to the wa­ter­coloured whimsy of the orig­i­nals and to­day’s kids will be su­ing you next decade for men­tal abuse and 95 min­utes of their lives they will never get back.

But, go too far the other way and lose the es­sen­tial charm of the source ma­te­rial, and you’ll make no friends at all.

Kids can spot unau­then­tic­ity a mile off and the par­ents will hate you re­gard­less.

So the mak­ers of this Peter Rab­bit have a tough task. And I reckon they’ve come up with a smart – not per­fect – so­lu­tion.

Di­rec­tor Will Gluck (Easy A) and co-writer Rob Lieber (The Gold­bergs) have brought Peter and co into the 21st cen­tury, but left the set­ting more-or-less in­tact.

We are in a tiny, wooded slice of ru­ral Eng­land, ap­par­ently un­touched since 1901 when

Beatrix Pot­ter pub­lished the orig­i­nal book.

Old McGre­gor (an un­recog­nis­able Sam Neill) is still tend­ing his beloved gar­den and wag­ing war against the rab­bits, who would have their way with his radishes given half a chance.

Peter and his three sis­ters now live un­der the aegis of an artist named ‘‘Bea’’ (Rose Byrne, per­fect), in a bur­row within the roots of an old oak.

When McGre­gor de­parts early in the first act, the 21st cen­tury ar­rives in the shape of his nephew (Domh­nall Glee­son), a toy de­part­ment man­ager at Har­rods, who plans to sell up and leg it back to Lon­don asap.

And then he meets Bea...

With a new gen­er­a­tion of McGre­gors in place, the stage is set for a re­vival of the clas­sic plot. Peter and wha¯nau try to get at McGre­gor’s veges and McGre­gor fights back.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters is the blos­som­ing ro­mance be­tween young McGre­gor and Bea, and the un­ex­pected jeal­ousy the or­phaned Peter feels over this. (In this Peter Rab­bit, both mum and dad have al­ready met their maker un­der a layer of old McGre­gor’s pas­try.)

Peter Rab­bit is pitched var­i­ously as a very wel­come, over­due and glee­fully an­ar­chic re­think­ing of the whole an­thro­po­mor­phic an­i­mal genre (much as Pot­ter’s orig­i­nal books were in 1901), and partly as an ag­gra­vat­ing and vaguely tone-deaf Amer­i­can re-write of a much-loved Brit clas­sic.

I sat al­ter­nately ir­ri­tated by the crass­ness, yet grudg­ingly ad­mir­ing of the en­ergy and smarts with which it has been done.

So while al­legedly grown-up Graeme may have winced at the umpteenth time Glee­son was shot across the room by a vi­o­lent elec­tric shock, 7-year-old Graeme would prob­a­bly have been laugh­ing hard.

Peter Rab­bit walks a fine line be­tween des­e­cra­tion and ven­er­a­tion of the source.

It sure ain’t your nana’s Pot­ter. But nei­ther is it done with­out wit, in­tel­li­gence and re­spect.

– Graeme Tuck­ett

Peter Rab­bit walks a fine line be­tween des­e­cra­tion and ven­er­a­tion of the source.

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