Friday, April 27, 2018
PETER RABBIT: GOING HIPPITY-HOP!
Written and directed by Will Gluck, starring Rose Byrne and Domnall Gleeson; Peter Rabbit is voiced by James Corden.
“It’s like a 3-D version of a cartoon!!” That sentiment, uttered by an incidental character late in Peter Rabbit, pretty well sums up this amazing mixture of live-action and animation.
When Thomas McGregor leaves his job at Harrods in London and journeys to Windermere, in the Lake District (locations actually shot in Australia) to claim the estate of his late great-uncle, Farmer McGregor, he’s in for a shock. He finds the house and garden invaded by all manner of geese, hedghogs, deer, badgers, and—yes—rabbits. And not just any rabbits, but that blessed family of “Beatrix Potter” rabbits, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and their older brother Peter Rabbit. In a frenzy, McGregor tries to rid house and garden of his unwanted guests. However, the anger of this gawky, clumsy young man is somewhat abated by the sight of his neighbor, the preposterously fetching young lady known only as “Bea.”
We know immediately that “Bea” is a latter-day stand-in for Beatrix Potter. We know that because this is the Lake District, because we’ve already seen the Miss Potter movie with Rene Zellweger, and because Bea’s study is crowded with the delicate, pastel drawings we recognize as the originals of all the beloved Potter characters. What’s amusing is that Bea doesn’t take these images seriously—she’d rather paint the pallid, semi-abstract images that she thinks marks her as a “True” artist. I mean, what does she know? Meanwhile, the living embodiments of her animal pictures are hopping and scampering all around the place and bedeviling the likes out of the hapless Thomas McGregor.
Of course, when Thomas falls in love with Bea, he has to disguise his hatred of the animals. And therein resides the conflict and most of the wondrously creative sight gags—gags that appeal as much to adult viewers as they do to the wee ones. Before misunderstandings are cleared up, thanks to the machinations of Peter Rabbit and his siblings, Thomas resolves his issues and accepts both Bea and her universe of talking animals into his life. (Yes, I said talking. How is it that Thomas comes to understand them? Easy, according to Peter Rabbit, he’s just listening to his heart!
Watching this amazing film is quite an experience. You go through stages, at first marveling at the convincing CGI of the animals, the traditional hand-drawn animation of Bea’s drawings, and the seamless blends of them all with real-life animals. How do they DO that??? you keep saying to yourself. Yes, you marvel and try to figure it out. . . but then, gradually, you give up the analysis and accept the hoppity comingling of them all.
And did I say the gags come thick and fast? There’s a quick and ready wit on every hand, and you have to watch closely to catch even a percentage of them all. My favorites are the many jokes about those strange jackets that the rabbits wear; the rooster who greets every sunrise with renewed surprise (“What? The sun is up again. . .?!”); and the flock of birds who swoop and dive to rap music. And there’s the music score by Dominic Lewis, a witty mashup of songs and musical sequences that even gives us a weird soupcon of classical references, including Schubert’s “Serenade,” Verdi’s “The Anvil Chorus,” and an adagio by Albinoni.
Critical cavils aside, which charge that the “purity” of Potter’s concepts is wronged, I found Peter Rabbit to a wholly enjoyable romp, er hop. . .