Sony have been responsible for many of the most egregious reboots and reimaginings of recent years and while “Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle” spectacularly bucked the studio’s trend, this loose and cynical adaptation of Beatrix Potter sees them back to their tawdry, inept usual. It’s hard to think of any other film that’s so woefully and horrifically misjudged the tone of its source material as “Peter Rabbit”.
Engaged in what can only be described as a relentless campaign of leporine terrorism, Peter Rabbit (James Corden) persecutes the curmudgeonly Mr McGregor (Sam Neill) to death, leaving his garden temporarily unguarded and therefore ripe for a never-ending fruit ‘n’ veg bacchanalia. But Peter’s triumph is short-lived as Mr McGregor’s estranged nephew Thomas (Domhall Gleeson) arrives to take over the house. Things go from bad to worse as Thomas becomes friendly with next door neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne), threatening the status quo Peter so violently and ruthlessly protects.
Although it flirts with trying to be ironic and self-aware, the script by Writer/ Director Will Gluck and Rob Lieber is the laziest, most cynical and repetitive piece of writing I think I’ve ever seen. Crass, tonally all over the place and just so thoroughly loathesome, this is a movie which deserves to live in infamy and blight the careers of nearly all those involved.
Structurally, there’s a narration – it’s never clear exactly who is providing the commentary – that exists solely to paper over the cracks in the story and explain away a clumsy, truncated and facile finale where the screenplay literally just gives up and ‘fast forwards’ to the end. There are some half-decent jokes scattered throughout, including the trailer-spoiled rake scene stolen wholesale from “The Simpsons” episode “Cape Feare” but the redundancy of having Peter explain why it was ‘funny’ is a sin the movie commits again and again as gags are worn thin by repetition and the humour is beaten out of them by tedious explanations.
The vocal performances are largely anonymous, despite the over-stuffed starry cast, but its James Corden’s flat and guileless delivery which disappoints the most. It’s a shame because the animation is really first rate and the technical crew deserved so much better from the performances they get. Voice acting is an underrated and challenging task and Corden simply doesn’t have the range or ability to be anything other than one note. There’s zero difference between Corden’s ‘Confused.com’ commercial persona and his Peter Rabbit and his limitations as a performer are cruelly exposed, to the film’s irreparable harm.
There’s a glimmer of what could have been when the film briefly allows Gleeson and Byrne to establish a sweet and gently amusing romance before its blighted and smothered once again by charmlessly voiced anthropomorphised woodland fauna and – grudgingly – I’ll admit that the electrocution gags, hilariously violent as they are, are never not funny.
The final, crowning turd of this facile and detestable film is the obnoxious and intrusive grab-bag of pop tunes dumped throughout the movie like loud, unpleasant reminders of how badly the writer and director have missed the mark in adapting this property. The soundtrack needs to be loud though, otherwise, it would drown out the constant distracting drone, not of Corden’s lifeless performance but of Beatrix Potter spinning so rapidly in her grave she’s on the cusp of generating Higgs bosons. Never mind those with allergies, this movie is so bad it should make everyone feel sick.