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"PETER RABBIT 2: THE RUNAWAY"
(2021) (voice of James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Computer-Animated Comedy: Unable to shake his reputation, a mischievous, talking rabbit ends up in a situation where his bad bunny behavior is appreciated.
PLOT:

Peter Rabbit (voice of JAMES CORDEN) is a mischievous and assertive bunny who lives on an English country farm with his sisters, Flopsy (voice of MARGOT ROBBIE), Mopsy (voice of ELIZABETH DEBICKI), and Cottontail (voice of AIMEE HORNE), and their cousin, Benjamin Bunny (voice of COLIN MOODY). Having seemingly called a true with Thomas McGregor (DOMHNALL GLEESON) -- who inherited the farm where the rabbits and other animals live and has just married his artist neighbor Bea (ROSE BYRNE) -- Peter must now contend with his newfound fame following the release of Bea's book about him and the rest of the animals.

That's drawn the interest of slick book publisher Nigel Basil-Jones (DAVID OYELOWO) who wants Bea to make Peter the "bad seed" character in her sequel that he believes should be made as commercial as possible. Fed up with that, Peter takes a walk through the city where he bumps into older rabbit Barnabas (voice of LENNIE JAMES) who claims he knew Peter's father and runs a small gang of street thieves comprised of rat Samuel Whiskers (voice of RUPERT DEGAS) and feline siblings Tom (voice of DAMON HERRIMAN) and Mittens Kitten (voice of HAYLEY ATWELL).

They're planning the food robbery of a lifetime and want Peter's help. With him now leaning into his bad bunny reputation, Peter enlists the help of his family and friends, all while Thomas worries that Nigel is too heavily influencing Bea's artistry.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

One of the signs of being a well-adjusted person is the ability to accept constructive criticism without lashing out at those who've given it and actually doing something with the feedback to make things better the next time around. Such would seem to be the case with writer/director Will Gluck and his "Peter Rabbit" movie franchise.

While I didn't care that the 2018 live-action with computer-animated critters film wasn't completely -- or even mostly -- faithful to Beatrix Potter's source novel, I did find the aggressive nature and abrasive portrayal of the main character as off-putting, a sentiment shared by other critics and regular moviegoers alike.

Perhaps taking that to heart or simply having a standalone mea culpa, Gluck (with new-to-the-fold Patrick Burleigh as his co-writer) has made some changes to the sequel, "Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway," which might hold the record for the most release date changes for any motion picture (nine, if my counting is correct).

Notwithstanding bouncing around the schedule like, well, a bunny, the film is better than its predecessor. And that's not only due to toning down the overall abrasiveness and making the title character somewhat more likable, but also by being noticeably self-aware and even going all meta at certain points.

The film picks up where the first one left off, featuring a wedding between Bea (Rose Byrne) and Thomas (Domhnall Gleason) with the latter's former enemy (again voiced by James Corden) seemingly okay with their true until he can't take it anymore and goes on the attack, thus disrupting the nuptials. Not surprisingly (at least to adults and savvy kids), all of that takes place inside Peter's head and the event goes off without a hitch.

Even so, Peter is getting fed up with Thomas' constant demands for the rabbit to behave himself and he has a love-hate relationship with being the star figure in Bea's book about him and the rest of the farm animals. But a new publisher, Nigel (David Oyelowo), wants Bea to spice things up in the sequel by adding more commercial elements to increase sales, including painting Peter as the "bad seed," something Thomas believes is perfectly fitting.

Not thrilled with that, Peter leaves his siblings (voiced by Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, and Aimee Horne -- the latter taking over voice duties from Daisy Ridley) and cousin (Colin Moody) behind to walk off his frustration when he runs into an older street thief rabbit, Barnabas (Lennie James), who encourages Peter to lean into his bad reputation.

That eventually leads to Peter joining his small gang and plotting to pull off the heist of a lifetime at a local farmers market. That, and Thomas being concerned about Nigel altering Bea's artistry for commercial gain is about it for the plot, although that's enough upon which to hang the various shenanigans and slapstick material viewers have come to expect from this new version of Potter's more than century-old creation.

That's likely enough to entertain kids, but Gluck and Burleigh are wise enough to play to the adults in the audience as well, with snide little asides of self-awareness related to the first film as well as crass commercialism in general. Where things get interesting -- but unfortunately don't go far enough -- is when discussions about what the literary sequel should include end up showing up in the film. It's not quite to the "Adaptation" level although it's an interesting addition and twist on the material and one that could and perhaps should have taken over the proceedings.

Since we're already dealing with a story universe of talking animals, why not have them realize they can alter the course of the story in which they're appearing, only to have the film's villains also get their hands -- okay, paws -- on another copy and alter things for themselves. While not original, that could have really taken the film in an unexpected and quite possibly more interesting and funny direction.

At least what's present is a step-up from the predecessor, so at least we're heading in the right direction. Not perfect but decently entertaining, "Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 10, 2021 / Posted June 11, 2021


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