For once – and apologies to The Boomtown Rats – we do like Mondays. This Monday in particular, and we all know why. Cinemas have re-opened in England, Scotland and Wales (Northern Ireland, sadly, has to wait until next week) which means that the brand new films out today to tempt us back into our favourite seats aren’t just the first of the week. Or the month. They’re the first of the 2021. How long it’s been.
One of the first out the blocks – alongside suspense thriller Spiral:From The Book Of Saw and Taylor Sheridan’s Those Who Wish Me Dead – is Peter Rabbit 2, the inevitable sequel to 2018’s animation/live action mash-up based on the perennial favourites from Beatrix Potter. Remembering that first one is a bit of a stretch, but it won’t make any difference to whether you enjoy this outing. Or not. It more or less picks up from where the last one left off, with Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) married to Bea (Rose Byrne), making him something of a step-father to her clutch of rabbits – Peter (the voice of James Corden), Benjamin (voiced by Colin Moody) and the rest. Bea has turned her stories about the bunnies into a self-published book and smooth talking publisher Nigel (David Oyelowo) sniffs a money-making opportunity – a series, merchandise, maybe a movie (gerraway!) but Peter takes umbrage at how he’s going to be portrayed and does a bunk. On the streets of Gloucester, he meets grizzled rabbit Barnabas (voiced by Lennie James) and becomes a member of his gang. You can guess the rest …..
There’s a definite change of tone from last time. Despite a modern setting, the first film attempted to stay close to the original books, making use of Potter-style drawings and reflecting some of the first Peter Rabbit story. Not so this time. It’s as if director Will Gluck and his team just threw caution to the wind with a loud “what the hell” and did exactly what they wanted, faithful or not. So this time round we have kick-ass bunnies, a large helping of self-parody including a Bond pastiche and a running gag about Peter’s/Corden’s irritating voice. Moreover, who would have thought that genteel Gloucester was such a hotbed of street crime, perpetrated in the main by four legged East End gangsters? Aside from that storyline, the city’s tourist board will love this as its cobbled streets, pretty shops and farmer’s market bursting with colourful produce are manicured to perfection.
If you’d never heard of Beatrix Potter and her books, the film would make you none the wiser and it doesn’t seem to care. It’s aimed fairly and squarely at the kids, with just a handful of references to strike a chord with the adults in the audience and, as an attempt to get families back in the cinematic habit, it probably fits the bill. But, while the film’s tone has shifted, the fundamental problem with part one remains exactly the same. For something that should give you a big hug and make you want to snuggle up against that soft rabbit fur, it’s remarkably soulless. There’s none of the comfort or affection that goes with the original stories and the end result has its eye on the bottom line in exactly the same way as part of its narrative. The words “shoot” and “foot” come to mind.
Not even a quality cast of actors and voices – Elizabeth Debicki, Margot Robbie and Damon Herriman feature alongside the leads – can add some much-needed warmth to what is, essentially, a sterile affair. There’s hints at the end of a possible part three. Maybe that one could be third lucky. For now, though, we just have to settle for a sequel that, like its title character, has gone AWOL.
Comedy, Animation, Family | Cert: U | Cinemas | Sony Pictures | 17 May 2021 | Dir. Will Gluck | Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, David Oyelowo and the voices of James Corden, Elizabeth Debicki and Margot Robbie.