Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, 2021.
Co-written and directed by Will Gluck.
Starring Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki, Margot Robbie, and James Corden.
Thomas and Bea are now married and living with Peter and his rabbit family. Bored of life in the garden, Peter goes to the big city, where he meets shady characters and ends up creating chaos for the whole family.
Among the most-delayed major films since the pandemic hit, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway has now, finally, unfurled in British cinemas the very day they opened back up for business. The original 2018 film’s impressive $350+ million box office cume ensured Sony refused to pull the trigger on any sort of VOD or hybrid release, holding out for well over a year to hoover up those precious theatrical bucks.
And while few will be rushing to their local multiplexes to see this follow-up with the verve of, say, the new Saw movie or the glut of other long-postponed franchise flicks, this is nothing if not a sequel which keeps consistent step with its surprisingly decent predecessor, while bringing just enough new to the table to sustain interest.
Following the events of the first film, Bea (Rose Byrne) and Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) are now happily married and enjoying the success of Bea adapting their adventures with Peter Rabbit (James Corden) into an eponymously-titled children’s book.
But as Bea and Thomas consider the next phase of their lives, Peter feels edged out and lacking purpose. When he becomes inadvertently separated from his families both human and animal and falls in with a gang of city-dwelling gangster-animals plotting a big heist, Peter must decide where his allegiances truly lie.
For much of its opening act, Peter Rabbit 2 sets the groundwork for a totally typical family comedy sequel, where the plucky hero has to adjust to a new dynamic, gets sent on a perilous adventure, and learns the true value of his lot before film’s end. And while that skeletal synopsis is mostly on the money, there’s also a slyly, at times puzzlingly, subversive tenor to the film that becomes increasingly difficult to ignore.
One of the major subplots involves Bea’s Peter Rabbit book being eyed for the blockbuster franchise treatment by slick publishing mogul Nigel Basil-Jones (a wasted but nicely-suited-up David Oyelowo). Nigel’s garish ideas for splashy sci-fi Peter Rabbit sequels very pointedly feel like a thumbing of the nose at the great many who complained about the original film deviating too far from the pure essence of Beatrix Potter’s stories, as if telling the audience, “Hey, it could be much worse!”
It’s an interesting line for a sequel to cut, albeit one which can’t help but feel hypocritical in a movie that features several bizarre pop music needle-drops, namely the truly baffling placement of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” when Peter mournfully considers his life.
Yet other aspects of the film’s introspection prove more knowing; for all of its self-flagellating jokes about turning Peter Rabbit into a blockbuster franchise, the film’s utterly bonkers third act offers up a series of creative, Fast and the Furious-aping action beats so thoroughly silly as to rouse genuine laughter. In these moments – particularly an inspired vehicular stunt involving everyone’s favourite hedgehog, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (Sia), Peter Rabbit 2 conjures the essence of the gold standard of adventure film sequels, Paddington 2. Only the essence, mind.
It is a film that wants to have its cake and eat it too, and while this doesn’t always work, there’s a prevailing uncanniness to much of the film’s scattershot wink-wink humour. Breathless Family Guy-style cutaways are fired at the audience every so often, lending the film an endearing, unexpected, quasi-Looney Tunes vibe. By the time it’s all over, the fourth wall has been smashed to smithereens, and I was left quite shocked at how often I’d laughed through it all.
It helps that Byrne and Gleeson don’t look down upon the material and bring a genuine sense of charm to proceedings, while the ensemble voice cast similarly crushes it. Corden may remain a divisive choice as Peter, and the film doesn’t help this by repeatedly making a joke out of how annoying he’s perceived to be, but he’s buffeted by the efforts of his vocal co-stars, particularly Lennie James, who is terrific as Peter’s new Guy Ritchie-esque rabbit mentor, Barnabas.
Because it’s a “talking animal film,” the original doesn’t get nearly enough credit for its polished visual effects, and the same is likely to be true here; whether you dig the voices attached to the animals or not, the designs cut an appealing compromise between realism and heightened cartoonishness.
The volumetric fur detail of Peter in particular is astonishing to behold, and probably the best argument for watching this thing on the big screen. That and the fact it’s a harmless slam-dunk for parents keen to reintroduce their little ones to the wonders of the big screen once again.
While a mostly garden variety sequel, Peter Rabbit 2 touts just enough of a surreal, meta-narrative edge to elevate itself above its totally-fine predecessor. If only more kids’ films were this enthusiastically weird.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.