4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2018; PG for some rude humor and action; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “‘Peter Rabbit’: Mischief in the Making”
HASN’T everyone heard of Beatrix Potter’s “Peter Rabbit” and friends? Like A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, another British author, the characters are staples of childhood.
Although it’s likely artist/writer/conservationist Potter would never have guessed the re-imagining of her characters in the film by Will Gluck. Producer/Co-writer/Director Gluck has updated her world to contemporary sensibilities. Some took offense at the Looney Tunes’ humor and violence. Others have embraced it.
“What I remember about Peter Rabbit is that he’s a little mischief maker,” Gluck says in “Mischief in the Making,” one of three bonus features on the Sony presentation. “Looking back, that’s why, as a kid, I liked it so much and I thought it was a great opportunity to take that little nugget, what Beatrix Potter gave Peter, and kind of explode it and make it our own story.”
“It’s full of comedy for the adults, comedy for the kids. So there’s a lot of broader stuff, but then there’s a lot of more clever jokes,” Rose Byrne says. She plays the present-day version of Beatrix “Bea” Potter, a frustrated modern artist who paints charming watercolors of Peter, his family and other farm and woodland creatures to relax. Bea lives in a beautiful English cottage next to the McGregor farm and garden.
“Will’s sense of humor and storytelling is obviously very different to Beatrix Potter’s. I think what matters is we really like and care about Peter Rabbit in the film and we really like and care about Peter Rabbit in the books,” says Domhnall Gleeson, who plays Thomas McGregor. He inherits the farm when old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill) dies, and takes refuge there after losing his job at Harrods, the luxurious British department store.
Thomas and Bea have an immediate attraction, much to Peter’s dismay. Bea has become a mother-figure to the rabbit and he doesn’t want to share her with anyone – especially a McGregor, who, in the dark side of Potter’s tale, killed his father and ate him in a pie!
Neill’s McGregor is always on the prowl for Peter and the rabbits, trying to keep them out of his vegetable garden. When nephew Thomas takes over, he’s faced with a bunny with a lot of issues. The war continues. It’s easy to cheer for both Peter and Thomas. They share a common goal: affection for Bea. Surely they can reach an understanding … or not.
Writer/singer/actor/talk show host James Corden (“Into the Woods”) gives Peter his voice. As soon as Corden heard the film “had the blessing of the Beatrix Potter groups,” he was in. “Peter is James Corden. We wrote it for James,” Gluck says. “He’s the greatest combination of exuberance and sweetness and very, very funny.”
And he’s as fabulous as everyone thought he would be – but so are all the voice actors who step into the classic roles: Colin Moody as Benjamin Bunny; Margot Robbie who voices Flopsy and serves as narrator; Elizabeth Debicki as headstrong Mopsy; and Daisy Ridley as fierce sister Cotton-Tail. David Wenham arrives as Johnny Town-Mouse guiding Peter and Benjamin to Harrods on their London escapade.
It’s a “live-action hybrid … shot like a regular movie with actors,” with animation coming afterward Gluck says.
Do actors get hazard pay? Gleeson earned his as demonstrated on film and in the making-of. Most times, he was on his own when being battered about. “We … had little blue sticks that we could poke him with, and then we had guys in blue suits that could actually touch him. Occasionally, we’d throw a little blue rabbit at him,” Stunt coordinator Lawrence Woodward reveals.
What a way to make a living.
Alas, we did not receive the 4K Ultra disc for review, but Sony Pictures Home Entertainment outdoes itself in the Blu-ray (2.39:1 ratio). Color is bold and bright; detail is exquisite. You will believe bunnies wear little outfits and talk. Even the dirt clinging to uprooted veggies looks real.
An opening scene sets us up for a Disney-like animated musical with a flock of singing sparrows. That saccharine moment is destroyed when Peterand the gang take over McGregor’s garden. Later, there is more remarkable detail and depth in Thomas’ walk through Harrods, where water in the toilets must be clean enough to drink.
Animal Logic, an animation and visual effects studio in Australia, is responsible for the seamless blend of live action and digital effects. They also worked on “Happy Feet,” “300,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” and “The Matrix.”
An amazing amount of sound envelopes the room from Sony’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Dialogue is always clear and comprehensive despite accents. Delivery is fast; this is Corden in action and his co-stars keep pace. The lively score is by Dominic Lewis (“Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”). Pop songs are also used throughout.
Effects are completely immersive with a wide range of sound: scampering rabbit feet on grass, in burrows and pavement; a wacky party in McGregor’s house; the noise of London streets (Johnny Town-Mouse takes the country boys on a tour before arriving at the store); lots of snaps, punches, and shrieks as Peter and Thomas have at one another while falling about rooms and fields. A large explosion arrives near the finale, yet does not overwhelm speakers, an exceptional consideration in a family film.
The 4K disc also has a Dolby Atmos track.
Aside from the interviews and making-of production details of “Mischief in the Making,” there’s “Shake Your Cotton-Tail Dance Along” showing kids how to dance to the main theme, “I Promise You.” Cotton-Tail, Flopsy and Mopsy star in a mini-movie, “Flopsy Turvy,” about the value of sisterhood.
Gluck nailed it; Peter Rabbit is the mischief-maker of rabbits, possibly a forerunner to American cousin Bugs Bunny. I don’t usually care for the “rude” humor so prevalent in children’s films and comedy. “Peter Rabbit’s” slapstick is more audience-friendly than mean and crude. The edge is there, but so is good resolution. And fun. Lots and lots of fun!
- Kay Reynolds