The film in its entirety, I found, was not as bad as the trailer looked to many. Yes, right away the movie dispenses with the sweetness and light and lyricism of the books by Beatrix Potter.
A chorus of birds flying over the British countryside, singing an air that sounds as if it may turn into the title song of “The Sound of Music,” is swept out of frame to make way for blue-jacketed Peter, whose wisecracks and egocentricity rather recall that of an American cartoon bunny, Bugs. But given that the wisecracks are voiced by the London-born James Corden, this Peter hasn’t been too Yankee-fied.
Indeed, despite the fact that the film’s director is Will Gluck (an American whose prior film was the 2014 “Annie” remake), the mode of cheeky humor here is reasonably British. There are at least a handful of inflections of Aardman, the renowned British stop-motion animation studio, in this picture. The scene in which Peter, his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, and his neurotic sidekick Benjamin Bunny travel to London on a mission to find a crucial human character recalls Aardman’s “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” from 2015. Let me be clear, though: “Shaun the Sheep Movie” is an animation masterpiece, while this film is … not. For one thing, it leans pretty heavily on the convention of “comedic scenes scored to jumpy ‘classic’ rock songs.” But its story line is clean; the live-action actors, particularly Rose Byrne (as Bea, an artist who paints portraits of the bunnies), bring their onscreen-appeal A game; and the computer-generated animals are charming, albeit lacking in the particular gentle winsomeness of Potter’s originals.
With movies such as these, the most pertinent immediate question is, “Will the kids like it?” I don’t have any myself, but for the press screening I was able (with an actual parent, mind you) to host three, between the ages of 5 and 7. These were pretty sophisticated kids. One of the 7-year-olds, on learning that I had a fear of heights, asked me if I’d ever seen “Vertigo.” They enjoyed the movie pretty quietly, and over pizza afterward, enthusiastically compared notes on their favorite scenes. Your results may vary.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
GLENN KENNY © 2018 The New York Times