Before sitting down to type this review, and type this first sentence, I stopped to wonder if the same feelings I had for the first Peter Rabbit would end up like this one. I gave the first movie a negative grade too, but then upgraded it after thinking about how it was very funny. Will I boost my grade down the road? Could happen. Truth of the matter is, there are lots of movies out there you think more or less of as time goes on. The movie at least did not make me question my opinion of the original, but considering my curiosity of how they’d continue the story of the rabbit even Elmer Fudd would have to admit was more “wascawy” than Bugs could ever be, I finished it wishing for more.
Never mind how much time exactly has passed between the first Peter Rabbit and the last, especially since this was supposed to be released 14 months ago, the original slogan being “Call Me The Easter Bunny. I Dare You”. Bea (Rose Byrne) and Thomas McGregor (Domnhall Gleeson) are married now, and even though the memories of rivalry and opposition are still in the memory of Peter (James Corden) he’s been able to keep it in his wild imagination only. So far. The wedding starts the film. So what’s the rest of it about? Well, Bea, or Beatrix Potter, as in the original author and creator of the character, has published (most likely self-published) a picture book about Peter and the bunnies, recounting how they worked together to make a happy family, and the book gets the attention of a high-up publisher named Nigel (David Oyelowo) who is excited to make Peter Rabbit into a franchise that sells millions.
Cottontail, Benjamin, Flopsy and Mopsy are all, in Nigel’s perspective according to his pitch, the friendlies, but Peter is seen as the bad seed. This was bad timing, since Peter just got in trouble by Thomas for something he didn’t do, simply being in the wrong place at the…yeah. He then meets a bunny stealing peaches named Barnabus (Lennie James) who is with a gang of different wild animals who know their ways about getting food when there are no farms. Peter ends up wanting to be part of this planned market heist, and he’ll have to decide if he’s a good rabbit or the rascal and rebel he was when he fought McGregor for the right of Bea and her garden.
So, there is the scene I mentioned before, about how Thomas blames Peter for a mishap, and it was a predictable blaming, but in spite of that, I appreciated how the movie for the most part makes us think Gleeson’s character is going to act a certain way towards something he sees, but he really doesn’t. Plus, I bet in a script meeting while planning this film, the writers thought it would be easy for how Bea and Thomas see in the conflict about the book to be reversed. Various scenes show Thomas has really grown, something I at first wasn’t sure about during my first viewing of the original Peter Rabbit. The filmmakers really meant it when they gave him an arc that turned him away from the antagonist role.
This is on a fairly close level with the first one, and yet I think the tipping point making me prefer the first is that that movie was a little more wicked. Not in terms of McGregor-dies-suddenly-from-bad-habits forcibly-hit-in-the-crotch wickedness, but stealing scheming booby-trapping fun wickedness. The movie spends a lot of its time with Peter trying to convince himself of his naughtiness, in a small inner crisis, and not enough time having fun doing so. There’s a feeling this movie isn’t as sure of itself anymore, wondering if it was a mistake having too much violence in the first one and now they’re trying to make it lighter when it knows it has most fun being mischievous. I wish there was an extra heist. And yet, as I’m typing this, I remember the rather funny trickery Peter and Barnabus do to the snooty Karen-woman. There are still a fair bit of fun sky-high banana-peel slips, and a lot of them are snuck onto us rather than telegraphed.
To convince myself even further that the grade I’m giving is fair even if this is on a close level with the first one, which has a positive grade, this movie ends with its messages feeling a little sappily spoon-fed, while the first one was delivered with more comic punch, more of an appealing wrongness. I was alright with the commentary on how there are storybooks out there that lose their flair (Nigel passively mentioning a best-seller being tanked by critics was noteworthy) when they go for a structure that’s easier to sell. I especially found it interesting how executives laughed about the unconventionally calming ideas Bea had for next book, but the anti-consumerism messages were a little too heavy handed and got in the way of what I was really hoping for. Maybe in the end I just wasn’t in the mood for a lesson-heavy conclusion, especially one that has a rather hasty bad guy takedown. Still, this is quite a family friendly film. I guess maybe the reason the Peter Rabbit films are so polarizing for my mind, even though they shouldn’t be, is they have the guts to be different and ill-mannered, even if it sometimes gets out of hand, plus both movies have given Gleeson’s character great development. The fact it’s a talking animal movie series with almost no posterior humour doesn’t do it injustice either. I guess all I can really say is I would only recommend this movie if you saw and really liked the first Peter Rabbit. Now it’s time to watch the awaited second season of Love, Victor.