2018 has been an interesting year for live-action/CGI animated movie hybrids, first with Paddington 2 and now with Peter Rabbit. While most of the past efforts have been hit or miss, and mostly misses, these two 2018 hybrid animated movies have been surprisingly great. Much like Paddington 2 before it, Peter Rabbit is a movie that has a lot of heart and is a wonderful addition to the family movie slate for the year.
When the movie starts, Peter Rabbit is doing what he does best — getting into trouble. He is on his way with his three sisters and cousin to slip into old man McGregor’s yard to steal some food to eat. The movie then gets dark early as it shows that McGregor had killed and eaten Peter’s dad years before and left the two at odds.
As Peter is trying to get the food, McGregor catches them but the rabbits all escape. However, McGregor gets hold of the blue coat that Peter’s dad left him. When Peter goes back to get the coat, McGregor catches him, threatens to eat him, but then falls dead from a heart attack.
This opens up the McGregor land and home for all the animals to run free and eat to their desire. The problem is that it all changes when McGregor’s nephew shows up after inheriting the land, and he has as little time for wildlife as his uncle did.
However, things are complicated from this point on. Instead of being an evil man like his uncle, Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) is conflicted. When we meet him, he is a manager in a toy store in London who has aspirations for great heights. However, when the company promotes someone else based on nepotism (that is how London is programmed), he goes nuts and ends up losing his job.
When he arrives at his late uncle’s country home, he immediately tries to get rid of the rodents (which he considers rabbits to be rodents). However, unlike his uncle, Thomas won’t kill the animals — no matter how much they annoy him.
Thomas also meets his neighbor, a young woman named Bea (Rose Byrne) who has taken in the rabbit family following the death of their mother. When Peter Rabbit and Thomas McGregor declare war on each other, it is Bea that is caught in the middle.
Most of the movie sees Peter Rabbit trying to get the best of Thomas, and succeeding most of the time. It almost becomes sadistic to watch how much punishment Thomas takes, and he continues to take a beating until he finally becomes murderous.
The problem with the movie is also its strength. Peter Rabbit has reasons for what he is doing, and we as the audience follow him and want him to succeed. However, in doing so, we are cheering for someone who is more antagonistic than the “villain” of the movie. The strength is that there are no villains in this movie.
By the end, Peter Rabbit is not a movie about a hero overcoming a villain. This is a movie about two characters — Peter and Thomas — who have to defeat their inner demons before they self-destruct and hurt the only person the two characters care about.
The voice cast is excellent, with James Corden as Peter Rabbit, Colin Moodey as his cousin Benjamin and the trio of Margo Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki and Daisy Ridley as the always bickering sisters. There is also a lot of jokes. Some of them hit (the birds always getting interrupted when they break into song) and some miss (the reasons that roosters crow every morning). The feud brings some laughs, but most are mean-spirited.
However, where the movie succeeds is the lessons that are learned at the end. This is a movie about learning how to accept others and learn how to share the love of the person closest to you. It is nowhere near as great as Paddington 2, but it is a fantastic family movie with great lessons on family, love, and understanding.