‘Peter Rab­bit’ fea­tures gor­geous an­i­ma­tion, vi­o­lent may­hem

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - MOVIES - BY KATIE WALSH TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Hol­ly­wood stu­dios have re­cently been pil­lag­ing the lit­er­ary canon of beloved chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, dig­ging up fod­der for an­i­mated fea­ture films. The best of these, like the “Padding­ton” movies, suc­cess­fully meld nostal­gia with mod­ern and ex­cit­ing film­mak­ing, while the more ques­tion­able ones, like the re­cent “Fer­di­nand” adap­ta­tion, man­age to mud­dle the source ma­te­rial with too many pop songs and dirty jokes.

The new “Peter Rab­bit” adap­ta­tion man­ages to land right in the mid­dle — the an­i­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy is top-notch, but the gen­tle spirit of Beatrix Pot­ter’s books is sub­sumed into a chaotic, vi­o­lent may­hem, man­i­cally sound­tracked to the day’s hits.

Will Gluck di­rects and co-wrote with Rob Lieber this adap­ta­tion of “The Tale of Peter Rab­bit,” the story of naughty rab­bit Peter (James Cor­den), who can’t help but snack from Mr. McGre­gor’s gar­den. This ver­sion ups the ante sig­nif­i­cantly in the Gar­den Wars, es­pe­cially when Mr. McGre­gor (Sam Neill) dies, and his fas­tid­i­ous nephew Thomas (Domh­nall Glee­son) comes to Win­der­mere.

Thomas, hop­ing to sell off his un­cle’s prop­erty to fund his own toy shop, finds the “ver­min” have moved in.

The pho­to­re­al­is­tic an­i­ma­tion by An­i­mal Logic is truly breath­tak­ing, es­pe­cially in the first few mo­ments of the film. The rab­bits are ex­traor­di­nar­ily life­like, with their in­di­vid­ual strands of soft fur and shiny eyes. When Peter hops into the arms of neigh­bor Bea (Rose Byrne) for a cud­dle, it’s as if she’s hold­ing the ac­tual an­i­mal. Gluck show­cases the an­i­mated crea­tures with ac­tion- packed film­mak­ing fea­tur­ing so­phis­ti­cated cam­era move­ments.

But those whiz- bang track­ing shots are all put in ser­vice of a shock­ingly sav­age and bru­tal war be­tween Peter and his crew (Flopsy, Mopsy, Cot­ton-Tail, Ben­jamin Bunny) and the fussy Thomas. At first, Peter just wants to get at those sweet, sweet fruits and veg­gies. Then it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of prov­ing he can, and ul­ti­mately, of dis­placed jeal­ousy over Thomas’ bud­ding re­la­tion­ship with Bea, whom Peter sees as a mother (she’s a ver­sion of a mod­ern­ized Pot­ter, talk­ing to and paint­ing her furry friends).

The imp­ish Peter takes the feud en­tirely too far, and “Peter Rab­bit” de­scends into a truly sadis­tic dis­play of vi­o­lence, as poor Glee­son is pounded, pum­meled, bat­tered, bruised, elec­tro­cuted and ex­ploded at the paws of the bru­tal bun­nies.

Ul­ti­mately, af­ter the dust has set­tled, the les­son at hand is one of peace­ful co­ex­is­tence with the en­vi­ron­ment. The more you try to shut some­thing out, with gates and fences and dy­na­mite, the more it will try to fight back. There’s also a mes­sage about own­ing your ac­tions and tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity… even if you are a tiny talk­ing bunny wear­ing a blue jacket.


Peter Rab­bit (James Cor­den) with Mr. McGre­gor (Domh­nall Glee­son) in “Peter Rab­bit.”

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