The brainiacs at Sony Animation who made “Peter Rabbit” (*** OUT OF ****) for kids should have aimed their hopped-up escapades about bunnies at adults. Most of the gags in this hybrid, live-action, animated hokum with furry realistic critters of all kinds are more appropriate for adults and far too mean-spirited for innocent adolescents. Do you want your preschooler stuffing carrots into your automobile tailpipe? What about fifth-graders challenging each other to see how long they are gnaw on an electric fence and not let go? Predictably, humans are far more vulnerable than the animals. People are hurled across rooms after they touch electrified doors. The most violent scene shows a venerable fir tree blasted out by its roots by remotely detonated cherry bombs. Surely, everybody has heard about the allergy incident Sony coughed up an apology for because those rabbits exploited a human character’s allergy affliction. Peter and his animal army conduct operations like Viet Cong guerrillas, and the clueless homeowner struggling to banish them from his garden acts like a Nazi. This kind of nonsense would be tolerable in a Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny or Wile E. Coyote cartoon, but the filmmakers have gone too far down the wrong rabbit hole. Presumably, “Easy A” director Will Gluck and “The Goldbergs” co-scripter Rob Lieber couldn’t muster the nerve to imitate the rude, crude, and lewd antics of Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon’s “Sausage Party” (2016) the Seth Rogan animated opus about a sausage searching for its origins. Many of the pranks that “Peter Rabbit” pulls are hilarious, but the PG-rated approach that Gluck adopted would have made Beatrix Potter turn over in her grave. Meantime, the extraordinary animation will captivate audiences both young and old. The voice casting is just as charming, featuring “Late, Late Show” host James Corden as Peter. “Star Wars” heroine Daisy Ridley voices Cotton-Tail; Elizabeth Debicki is Mopsy; and “Suicide Squad’s” Margot Robbie does double-duty as Flopsy and the Narrator. Mind you, Peter was no saint in Potter’s stories, but he was never an anarchist as portrayed here.
“Peter Rabbit” follows Potter’s original story up to a point. Peter plunders grumpy Mr. McGregor’s (Sam Neill of “Jurassic Park”) bountiful vegetable garden. Eventually, the crotchety farmer seizes Peter by the ears, and it appears like the son is about to meet the same fate of his father. A flashback reveals that McGregor caught Peter’s pop and Mrs. McGregor put him in a pie. Miraculously, Peter escapes death. The old codger drops dead from a heart attack. Peter and his pals descend upon the garden, ravage it like locusts, and then they throw a huge party to celebrate their conquest. Mr. McGregor’s great-nephew, Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson of “Ex Machina”), learns about the demise of his great-uncle. Thomas works in London at Harrods, an upscale department toy store, where the control freak in him comes out. He is preparing himself for his inevitable promotion. Instead, a natty imbecile, Bannerman (Gareth Davies of “The Daughter), lands the position because he is related to a higher-up. Moments before his General Manager (Marianne Jean-Baptiste of “RoboCop”) fires him for insubordination, Thomas informs his fellow employees that the toilet water must be as clean as a drinking fountain. He is poised to sink a straw into a toilet and check the cleanliness when his General Manager summons him to her office. Thomas snaps at the bad news and goes berserk, trashing the place, until security escorts him from the premises. He decides to withdraw to the county and live at Windermere, the family’s manor home out in the woods. Thomas’ only neighbor, an artist named Bea (Rose Byrne of “Bridesmaids”), who paints shoddy pictures, welcomes him with open arms. She advocates sharing the land with Peter Rabbit and the local wildlife, but he reviles them as vermin. Thomas dreams of selling Windermere so he can return to London, open a toy store, and put Harrods out of business!
Thomas realizes he must evict Peter Rabbit and his chums before he can sell Windermere. No matter what strategy Thomas embraces, Peter and company turn it against him. Thomas erects an electric fence and slathers peanut butter on it. Despite warnings, a hungry hedgehog, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (Sia Kate Isobelle Furler), cannot resist temptation. She chomps on it. The voltage sizzling through her doesn’t kill her, but it launches virtually all her quills like a wave of missiles. Peter and his pals, along with wiseacre Pigling Bland (Ewen Leslie), reroute the electricity. When Thomas touches anything metal, he gets the charge of his life and performs involuntary acrobatics. Meantime, Thomas has fallen head-over-heels for Bea. Similarly, Peter is just as infatuated with her. Whenever oblivious Bea ventures into their combat zone, Thomas and Peter stage a truce so she hasn’t a clue about their quarrel.
Happily, “Peter Rabbit” wraps up with a happy ending where everybody wins. James Corden turns on his amiable British charm as the incorrigible but charismatic long-eared protagonist. Incidentally, when the critters aren’t speaking English, they behave like animals. The scenes of rabbits racing over hill and dale look as authentic as the real thing might. The detailed texture of their fur and way they wiggle their ears seems truly life-like, too. These days anything that looks that convincing is almost assuredly GCI. Surprisingly, Domhnall Gleeson steals the show as Thomas. “Star Wars” fanatics will remember Gleeson as General Hux in both “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” He never lets on that he is sharing the screen with an animated co-star, and his performance is often sidesplitting. You’ll laugh every time he is catapulted backwards after getting shocked! Rose Byrne navigates this battle zone without an inkling that Thomas and Peter are waging a war over her. Comparatively, “Peter Rabbit” isn’t as innocent and naïve as the two sweet-spirited “Paddington” comedies. While it isn’t entirely kid-friendly, “Peter Rabbit” delivers a lot of hilarity designed to appeal more to mature audiences than immature audiences.