Generations of kids have grown up on Beatrix Potter’s classic tales of fluffy creature high jinks. But what to do with such jolly polite japes as Peter Rabbit when it comes to 21st century childrens’ attention spa- ooh, shiny!

For the movie to have any success it required a modern makeover, the likes of which the Paddington people have pulled off with much aplomb twice now. The Peter Rabbit peeps must be sick of seeing the bear’s name in their reviews, but comparison is most appropriate.

Like Paddo (mate!), Peter Rabbit takes place in the real world, featuring animated creature(s) born in another time, long ago. But, whereas the bear’s handlers have got the balance right, Pete tends to teeter hither and thither – it does get a lot right, but the pop-oozing affair also induces the odd shudder. Still, compared to the twerking atrocity that we expected from the trailers, there was much that pleasantly surprised us.

Peter Rabbit

The bones of Potter’s classic Peter Rabbit tale remain (hmmm, soup time? Ooh, we’ll get letters…) The bunny scamp, his cousin, sisters and many friends live happily in the English countryside (well, it’s actually Sydney’s Centennial Park, but shhh), tormenting old Mr MacGregor in the name of satiating their vegetarian cravings. But when Mr Mac passes and his uptight city-bred nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) arrives, things take an abrupt turn for the worse – for all involved.

This includes Bea (Rose Byrne), a character loosely based on Miss Potter herself, who lives at one with the animals and, to the little creatures’ chagrin, takes a bit of a shine to Thomas. Meanwhile, this interloper has essentially declared war on all creatures great and small after they made the MacGregor place their very own Animal Farm while it was uninhabited. As Peter declares…

He’s got to go!

Much like the aforementioned bear flick, several nods to classic slapstick abound, from repeated electrocution to a rake scene rip straight from The Simpsons and on to a surprisingly controversial scene involving a berry allergy that is actually sharply signposted in blink-and-you’ll miss-it style as being something that will likely cause complaint. But amongst the mayhem and the smartarsery of the James Corden-voiced Peter, a good heart beats through. There are genuinely sweet moments, and in all the movie is much more faithful to the legacy of Miss Potter than we expected going in – the nods to her wondrous illustrations are particularly delightful. Plus there’s an ace Aussie voice cast – Sia, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Bryan Brown, Rachel Ward, David Wenham. This must have a few traditionalist English noses quite out of joint.

It’s no Paddington, but Peter Rabbit is bound to entertain the kids and, much like the movie’s hilarious JW Rooster II, who expresses wired wonderment at the dawning of each and every day, surprise a few jaded adults.

star-3In cinemas: March 22, 2018
Starring: Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, the voice of James Corden
Directed by: Will Gluck