Released: 25th March
Seen: 7th August
In 2018 the film Peter Rabbit came out to a fairly mixed response. Personally I thought it was fine, James Corden hadn’t quite become full cinematic poison just yet (though he had just done The Emoji Movie, so he was getting there) and the film itself had enough silliness and charm to be fine for the little kids. It was cute but I was fine with it sticking to just a single film, a feeling I grew more sure of the more my general disdain for the lead actor grew (the man did Cats, Superintelligence AND The Prom within a year, a trilogy of performances that should end careers). Now having finally seen the sequel… It’s a bit of an improvement on the original, but I can also be done with this series at any point now.
Peter Rabbit 2 picks up very shortly after the original, with Mr. McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) and Bea (Rose Byrne) having finally made peace with the animals as part of their lives, letting the creatures run free in the garden that McGregor spent so much time in the last movie protecting. Instead their focus is on the surprise hit books that Bea wrote about the little creatures that live in their yard, these books focusing around Peter Rabbit (James Corden).
Peter is a little hurt to realise that the books portray him as a bad seed who can’t help getting into all sorts of assorted mischief… so, in response, he falls in with a group of criminals and does a whole bunch of assorted mischief which will surely prove everyone wrong about him. While this is going on, Bea has to deal with a big publisher named Nigel Basil-Jones (David Oyelowo) who wants to take her sweet innocent little book and turn it into something big and corporate because corporation bad, so sayeth this film produced by Sony that had a Happy Meal tie in with McDonalds.
Much like the first film in this franchise, it’s hard to deny that the animation here is stellar. All of the characters look great and distinct and you fully believe that the people are interacting with them, which is honestly kind of rare for movies like this. They also really perfected this strange combination between believable and cartoonish movement, allowing for some of the more over the top bits (like the jelly bean train gag in the trailer or a whack-a-mole game featuring Peter and his new friend Barnabas (Lennie James)) to not feel wildly out of place.
There’s also a genuinely good little mix of humor aimed squarely at children and jokes that are going to hit harder for the adults in the room, so at least any parent who is forced to watch this with their child won’t be totally bored out of their skull. It’s a fine line to toe and fortunately the film manages to just barely make it work, never going to vulgar jokes for the adults but certainly jokes that would go over a kid’s head… granted most of those are the meta jokes about commercialism, but at least it’s something.
That entire subplot where Peter Rabbit 2 almost tries to acknowledge just how much they commercialised this property might be the part of the film that feels most pointless. Throughout the film Nigel Basil-Jones tries to convince Bea that her Peter Rabbit series needs to go for a broader audience, as in they need to make the bunnies into surfers or put them into space. It’s a clear ribbing of powerful executives who don’t know what they’re talking about trying to sell a niche property… from Sony, a company that would probably actually try to put Peter Rabbit in space if it would make them more money.
It almost feels like two very different movies, one where Peter runs away to join a roving band of thieves and the other that’s just an elongated joke at the expense of big companies by a big company. It’s almost like they had the two human actors contracted for multiple films and had to use them both so they pushed them off to this other story to keep them out of the way until absolutely needed which makes for a weirdly disjointed film.
Honestly Peter Rabbit 2 probably should’ve just ignored the plot about the book, which is just too damn meta for this franchise, and stuck to the almost interesting story where Peter essentially gets to join a gang. That story has some stakes, some interesting characters and a whole lot more potential and I really don’t need to keep cutting away to a boardroom to hear a bunch of men in suits make jokes about how wild it would be if they put Peter Rabbit in a spacesuit. Maybe one of them ends up landing and most of the time… look, some films work with Meta jokes, Peter Rabbit really isn’t one of them.
Peter Rabbit 2 is pretty much what you expect, a decent follow up to a decent family film. It’s not shockingly brilliant, it’s not mind numbingly awful. It’s a fine family film that everyone can watch and get some enjoyment out of without too much hassle. There’s a lot of cute animals being very silly doing things that animals normally don’t do, a fairly good amount of well performed slapstick comedy and a fox doing calisthenics throughout the entire film… so yeah, pretty good family film, not great but does the job.