Peter Rabbit 2, review: a frisky sequel to get you bouncing back to the cinema
Dir: Will Gluck. Cast: Rose Byrne, Domnhall Gleeson, James Corden, David Oyelowo, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Lennie James, Sia. U cert, 93 mins
And we’re back. Cinemas reopened yesterday with at least one fresh lure in the shape of Peter Rabbit 2, a frisky sequel to 2018’s weirdly controversial blend of live action and animation, in which Peter and his pals got in especially hot water for pelting an allergy sufferer with blackberries. So is Peter on his best behaviour here? Will Beatrix Potter stop achieving G-force in her grave? Not exactly.
The film kicks off with chaos at a wedding, flying ninja kicks and all sorts of animal aggression. Don’t worry, it’s a daydream, tripping up the wary viewer who doubtless hopes to have a better time on this occasion – and will almost certainly be rewarded. After the mischievous escapades of the first outing, this one is all about reform... at least, up to a point. Newlywed author Bea (Rose Byrne) and her farmer husband Tom (Domhnall Gleeson) are tending their Lake District vegetable garden while Peter (voiced again by James Corden), the star of Bea’s fiction, makes an effort to stay on Tom’s good side.
But her publisher (David Oyelowo, swishy in purple) wants to push the boat out with her next Peter Rabbit volume (or the next 22). Unfortunately for her, it’s a speedboat. Or how about a book set in space? Hip updates, not lovable farmyard frolics, spell sales. To his huge offence, Peter is pegged in this meta revamp as the resident bad seed, prompting him to storm off in a huff. But then he falls in with a genuinely ill-intentioned crew of petty thieves, led by Lennie James as a bunny criminal called Barnabas, who’s recruiting accomplices for a devious heist at the Farmer’s Market.
Will Gluck has returned to co-write and direct this, with an eye on the pearl-clutching of Potter purists last time. Bea’s worried that her sweet fictional world is about to be trampled on by a coarse, corporate, American makeover. (Nudge, nudge.)
The film has its cake and gobbles it, feigning horror at the idea of rabbits jumping from planes, and then still treating children to the sight of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail merrily skydiving. All this winking Potter desecration is quite good-humoured. You’d hardly call it a classic – it can only dream of being Paddington 2, and borrows liberally from more than one Toy Story. Plus, the CGI flourishes are lamentable.
Still, Gluck gets it hopping along. Everyone will like the rehabilitated fox learning to do cardio and jog – “it’s running, but without a terrified animal in front of you”, explains Peter. Most people will even be OK with Corden, milking any holdover scepticism about his casting by putting up with jokes about his “annoying voice” this time, and getting by just fine.
The film’s a little wobbly on actual charm; stronger on smarm, in-jokes and Bond-riffing action pastiche. Yet whatever their niggles, families can flock to it, relieved to be getting brand new entertainment that entertains.
Peter Rabbit 2 is in cinemas now