By Joseph McAleer | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The beloved characters created by Beatrix Potter in her series of children’s books stray even further from their amiable roots in “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” (Columbia).
A blend of live action and computer-generated animation, this follow-up to the 2018 film features a similar array of anthropomorphic animals. Will Gluck, who returns as director and co-writer — this time with Patrick Burleigh — retains the manic pace and snarky humor of the kickoff, thus maintaining a tone entirely alien to that of Potter’s gentle fables.
The result will, once again, offend purists. But those unfamiliar with the Potter canon will likely enjoy a fast-paced, slapstick-filled adventure with positive messages about family, morality and good behavior.
The sequel opens on a high note, as domestic bliss has settled on the McGregor manor in England’s Lake District. Toy-shop owner Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) has married writer Bea (Rose Byrne) and has reached a truce with her farmyard brood.
Even Peter (voice of James Corden), who formerly regarded Thomas as the enemy, has mended his mischievous ways and is now the defender of the vegetable patch that includes Thomas’ prized tomatoes.
Naturally, this tranquil state of affairs isn’t destined to last long. Things begin to unravel when Bea’s book about Peter and his younger sisters, Flopsy (voice of Margot Robbie), Mopsy (voice of Elizabeth Debicki) and Cottontail (voice of Aimee Horne), attracts the interest of wily publisher Nigel Basil-Jones (David Oyelowo).
Smooth talking Nigel promises fame and fortune — so long as Bea agrees to a few changes. One of these is to showcase Peter as the “bad seed” and overall villain of the proposed series of stories.
Upset and confused, wondering if his true nature is indeed wicked, Peter runs off to the big city. There, he falls in with a gang of thieves.
Their leader is a grizzled bunny named Barnabas (voice of Lennie James), a newcomer to the Potter universe. The other members are two frisky felines, Tom Kitten (voice of Damon Herriman) and his sibling Mittens (voice of Hayley Atwell), and a dirty rat, Samuel Whiskers (voice of Rupert Degas).
The robbers break into homes and steal food. Barnabas tells Peter it’s not criminal since they are simply providing sustenance for their family and friends. Peter is all in, declaring: “I’m no goody two-shoes! I’m a baddy-bad bunny!”
To pull off their biggest heist, a raid on the farmers’ market, Barnabas needs backup, and convinces Peter to enlist allies. Despite their misgivings, Peter’s cousin, Benjamin Bunny (voice of Colin Moody), Pigling Bland (voice of Ewen Leslie) and that prickly porcupine, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (voice of Sia), among many others, put their (misguided) trust in Peter.
Needless to say, a reckoning is in store, and life lessons are to be learned. Of these, at least, Potter herself would firmly approve.
The film contains some rude humor and mild action sequences. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.