Peter Rabbit 2 (2021)

Out in time for the holidays, and in one of the first places in the world, is this follow-up to the 2018 screen adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s beloved fables, which sees the return of stars Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne and James Corden, as well as a host of other big names lending their voices. It’s a mostly charming family adventure, with a sweet tone spoiled a little by a slightly mean edge.

Bea (Byrne) and Thomas (Gleeson) are now married and happy in the country, and they (mostly) get along with Peter Rabbit (Corden) and his family. Bea has penned her prior adventures with the rabbits and drawn soft, friendly illustrations in cosy pastels that celebrate quiet country life.

Now she’s caught the attention of a big city publisher, a smooth-talking David Oyelowo. With promises of wealth and fast cars, he entices Bea to a Faustian deal. She is to scale up her rabbit adventures, and launch a franchise based on spectacular, but soulless thrills. Meanwhile, Peter is trying to find his place in the world. Adrift, he and his pals get caught up in a heist with a gang of unscrupulous thieves.

Comically, Peter Rabbit 2 is very aware of its sequelness. It spins the old trope of ‘this time we’re going to the city’ into a joke about a franchise’s need to make every successive movie bigger and better, often at the expense of the settings and relatable situations that made the audience like the original. Even as this movie is upscaling itself, it does avoid falling into the same trap that endangers Bea. It’s still ultimately about cuddly animals getting along with each other and their parent-figure humans, and the thrills (narrow escapes and heists) are still simple childish fun.

But it’s not a total winner either, suffering from the same problems as the first film. The humour is a bit uneven: at times smart, at times broad and easy, usually derivative, but every now and then properly funny (there’s a fabulous hill-rolling bit).

Also, it’s a little inappropriate, especially for young children. As Peter himself insists, when the publishers want to rebrand him, he’s not a bad seed, he’s just mischievous. But that mischief gets a touch too violent. It’s slapstick, but it’s done with the clear intent to hurt. While Peter does show some remorse, the Marvel generation of kids in the audience still get to enjoy seeing lots kicks to the face. For a story about not selling out, this is kind of trying to have its carrot cake and eat it too.

It certainly seems a long way from Potter’s tone of kindness and gentle moral lessons. Having said that, Peter Rabbit 2 is fun and quite smart, and you could do worse for a family outing these holidays.

Peter Rabbit 2 is in cinemas now.

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