Reviewed by: Shawna Ellis
Getting along with neighbors
How our selfish actions can impact others
How to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged
How can I know what is RIGHT and WRONG? Answer
How can I discern whether a particular activity is WRONG? Answer
Animals in the Bible
|Featuring:||James Corden … Peter Rabbit (voice)
Margot Robbie … Flopsy (voice)
Daisy Ridley … Cotton-tail (voice)
Domhnall Gleeson … Mr. McGregor
Elizabeth Debicki … Mopsy (voice)
Rose Byrne … Bea
Sam Neill … Older Mr. McGregor
Sia … Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (voice)
Emma Louise Saunders … Pretty Lady
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|Director:||Will Gluck—“Annie” (2014), “Fired Up!” (2009), “Easy A” (2010)|
Animal Logic Entertainment [Australia]
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|Distributor:||Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures|
“He’s got a taste for adventure”
Whenever I hear a film described as “irreverent” I cringe a little inside. The film “Peter Rabbit” has been described in such a way. To be “irreverent” means that the usual respect or honor is not shown. In “Peter Rabbit,” we have a movie which describes itself as edgy and irreverent, but which is blatantly marketed toward young children. This should give parents some pause.
Although I am not familiar with all of the Beatrix Potter tales, from those I do remember there is a simple story in which the animal characters make poor choices which result in an almost immediate consequence or a narrow escape which teaches a lesson. In the classic stories, Squirrel Nutkin has most of his tail bitten off when he has taunted the owl one too many times. Jemimah Puddleduck loses all of her eggs and is almost eaten herself when she trusts the fox. Peter Rabbit narrowly escapes death at the hands of Mr. McGregor, and his mother doses him with chamomile tea while his sisters get a treat.
The film “Peter Rabbit” does not have the simple and straightforward morality of these old tales. Peter’s mother and father are dead, and as the new leader of his family, Peter repeatedly puts his cousin and younger sisters in harm’s way as he ignores the teaching of his parents and takes needless risks in Mr. McGregor’s garden. Yet, he is called “the hero of our tale” by the narrator, which may give impressionable children the wrong idea of what a hero should be. Peter is certainly not a hero… he steals, bosses his family, taunts, plays cruel pranks, is callous toward the death of humans he doesn’t like, and lives a very arrogant and self-centered life. This film is marketed toward young children with toys and its cute animal characters, but children will receive a very mixed message. Parents will probably assume beforehand that Peter will be a rebellious and mischievous rabbit, but as the film progresses they may be shocked at the lengths he goes to in order to get his way. They may also wonder if he will ever face the consequences of his reckless and even cruel actions.
When the consequences do finally come, they are devastating, and they actually have more impact upon those Peter cares about than for himself. And just as the consequences are big, so is the regret and humility that Peter feels. Finally, we get the payoff and the moral of the tale. We see Peter move toward being a leader as he admits his wrongdoing and works to make things right to help those he loves. But I wonder, will the younger viewers see that Peter is finally reaping what he has sown? Or will they just remember the “hero” bunny’s dangerous and selfish antics which are played for laughs?
While Peter and the other rabbits are destructive and even occasionally ruthless, the human characters have their own problems. Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) is sometimes volatile and at other times endearing, but even when he is charming he is also dishonest in his relationship with his neighbor. He sometimes presents a different character in order to please her, and systematically hides his ill intentions toward the rabbits because he knows she would disapprove. Bea (Rose Byrne) is kind in her way, but very skewed in her thinking that rabbits are pure and perfect creatures and that a human is never justified in trying to keep them out of a garden.
This movie can lead to much discussion about right and wrong, about how our selfish actions can impact others, and about how to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged. But I think parents will need to be purposeful in pointing out these lessons, because some children could come away without grasping the moral of the story and instead have just spent an hour and half with very bad role models.
This film is visually stunning. From the sweeping views of gorgeous countryside to the tiny intricacies of Mr. McGregor’s garden, everything we see is rich with color and detail. The animal characters are beautifully animated and textured. While not exactly realistic, they are very believable and are rendered in such a way that they can express personality and emotion. One can see that a great deal of work went into making this a visually appealing movie.
The main human characters give excellent performances. Domhnall Gleeson is surprisingly comedic as the eccentric Thomas McGregor, and Rose Byrne is convincing as the friendly artistic neighbor who thinks that rabbits can do no wrong. The voice acting for the animal characters is humorous and fits the personalities of each very well, although I sometimes had some trouble distinguishing between the three rabbit sisters. I’m not familiar with James Corden, but I think he perfectly captures the rude and cocky attitude of this portrayal of Peter.
This movie is a far cry from the slow and gentle pacing of the classic Potter stories. The action is immediate and almost continuous. As it progresses, the situations become more and more unbelievable—to the point of utter ridiculousness. The music is also rollicking and fast-paced, with modern songs interspersed throughout. I was not able to catch all the lyrics, but the general tone of the music fit Peter’s arrogant and reckless personality. I have a feeling that some of these songs may not make for ideal repeated listening.
Although there is some light romance, this is primarily a comedy. Children in my viewing audience often erupted in laughter and exclamations of delight. Most of the humor for children comes in the form of comedic violence, in which this production abounds almost to gratuitous excess. More on this in the “content of concern” section below.
Adults can find humor in more nuanced jokes. Thankfully, very little of this comes from the usual sexual innuendo but instead is a result of clever writing. The movie is funny and entertaining, with enough character and heart to make it worth viewing… with some cautions for impressionable viewers. Parents should carefully discern if this movie would be a good fit for their impressionable children.
This film is refreshingly devoid of profanity and blasphemies. I never once heard any foul language or the Lord’s name misused. If only more movies today could do the same! The British insult “twit” is used a few times, there is one use of “heck” and two of “butt,” as well as words like “imbecile” and “idiot.”
Potty humor is also kept at a minimum, especially for a film involving animals. There is one scene in which there is literal toilet humor, as a human character sets out to demonstrate the cleanliness of a toilet by drinking from it with a straw. Thankfully this is interrupted before he drinks.
Unmarried human characters share a single brief kiss. In a fit of anger, a man sits astride a large stuffed bear and punches it, then bends over to kiss it while apologizing, then punches it again. Something about this seemed awkward and unnecessary. A man holds his hands protectively over his privates as rabbits pummel him with vegetables. When he removes his hands to go into a yoga relaxation pose Peter says, “You know where to aim!”, and he is hit multiple times in the groin (partly obscured). A man is briefly shown shirtless and another time in boxers, both played for comedic purposes. As a man bends over, his pants slip down and a couple inches of his crack are revealed. A rabbit contemplates putting a carrot there in a lengthy scene.
Probably the worst joke in the film is made by a rooster who is always surprised by the rising of the sun. One morning he laments, “If I had known today was coming, I wouldn’t have fertilized all those eggs last night. Now I have to be involved and present!” Thankfully this will probably go right over most children’s heads. Later, we see the rooster with many chicks, and he admits that they are “the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
A party takes place in which animals act wild and crazy, as if in a fraternity house. Animals shave the fur off a fox’s chest while he is passed out. Later he runs away covering himself as though naked, but in another scene he purposefully “streaks” past. One rabbit admits that she had thought she was looking at someone’s jacket buttons, but that they were actually just his nipples. A character claims she can read lips but misinterprets, saying “all the elephants around here have flatulence” and “she has a thing for man-butts.”
The rabbit siblings’ parents are both dead. In flashback form, using beautiful Potter-style traditional animation, we see that the father was killed by Mr. McGregor (it is obscured) and was baked into a pie. We do not know what happened to the mother. Peter sometimes talks to his parents as if they can hear him. Although he often implies that he wants to make them proud, he continually disobeys his late father’s warnings about the garden.
The elder Mr. McGregor dies on-screen of a heart attack. This is shocking and somewhat disturbing, and many children in the audience were heard asking, “What happened?” The death is followed by a brief montage of grotesque close-up images showing his unhealthy eating habits and lifestyle. Peter is not upset by his death and actually takes credit for causing it. In one scene, rabbits shoot a known food allergen into someone’s mouth (to kill him, it is assumed), and he must use an Epi-pen to save himself. When the character is revived, the animals are surprised and claim that he “must be a sorcerer.”
There are two brief jokes about man being Evolved. Meditation is mentioned, and a couple practices yoga together. A man flies into a fit of rage and wreaks havoc in a store.
The constant violence is probably the largest drawback of this film. Yet, it is also what elicited the most laughter from adults and especially from the children in the audience. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the violence is that it has no real consequences… characters are not shown with lasting injuries, even though they should have broken bones, cuts, bruises ad bloody wounds. This is similar to what happens in cartoons, but because the human characters are real, I believe it is a more dangerous example. Humans are caught in traps, electrocuted, thrown against walls, knocked down, punched, hit with vegetables by a slingshot, and more. One rabbit character repeatedly leaps from great heights and says she can do so because she has lots more ribs left to break. She is never injured, even after very hard falls. A hedgehog is shocked on an electric fence. A group of singing sparrows are hit in a repeated gag. Rabbits narrowly avoid being hit with hoes, caught in traps and blown up with explosives. A few children in the theater screamed and cried at the latter. I found it sadly interesting that children laughed at the bad things which happened to the humans, but were frightened by the thought of the cute rabbits being hurt.
Perhaps this is what has left me the most unsettled about “Peter Rabbit.” It is not that the film itself is so bad, but that the reaction of the audience reveals a skewed way of thinking in which humans are the enemy. People getting hurt is comedic material, but rabbits being in danger is cause for alarm. This sort of thinking shows a low view of humans which are created in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). We are image bearers, and have been given dominion over the Earth. That does not give us license to harass or needlessly harm animals, as some might think, but neither is the opposite true… we are not to think of animals as being of more value than humans. Jesus made that quite clear when He said in Matthew 10:31, “… you are of more value than many sparrows.” We can know that we are of more value to God than rabbits, for that matter. God did not send Jesus to give His life for animals, but for humans. It is only to humans that God has given the right to become the children of God (John 1:12). Animals are a wonderful part of God’s creation, but are not of the same value as humans.
Yet in the theater, children shrieked with laughter when Peter and his friends hurt Thomas McGregor, but cried out in fear when the tables were turned. Why is this? If you choose to see this film with your children, be prepared to discuss this.
“Peter Rabbit” is an entertaining movie with some concerns and some redeeming qualities. You will have to decide if the heavy comedic violence and recklessness of the first three quarters of the film are balanced out by the last fourth of the film in which forgiveness is sought and a lesson is learned.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.