Review: Peter Rabbit on the run – Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (2021)

Peter Rabbit on the run – Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (2021)

Directed by: Will Gluck | 93 minutes | animation, adventure | Original voice cast: James Corden, Colin Moody, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Aimee Horne, Lennie James, Hayley Atwell, Damon Herriman, Rupert Degas, Sia, Sam Neill, Ewen Leslie, David Wenham, Will Reichelt, Matt Villa, Stewart Alves | Actors: Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, David Oyelowo, Tim Minchin, Tara Morice, Dave Lawson, Alex Blias

Peter Rabbit (Peter Rabbit), Beatrix Potter’s beloved creation, is part of Great Britain’s cultural heritage. As early as 1893, Potter wrote a letter with the drawn figure to the five-year-old sick son of her former governess Annie Moore, with the intention of cheering him up. In 1903, the figure was picked up by publisher Frederick Warne & Co., who published it widely. And with great success. Later Beatrix wrote another 22 books about the adventures of Pieter Rabbit for this publisher. The style of both the drawings and the stories has always been lovely, sweet and soft, also in the various reprints. The shock was great when the film ‘Pieter Rabbit’ (‘Peter Rabbit’) was released in 2018 – certainly in Great Britain. Director Will Gluck – an American, of course – had turned that sweet-natured Pieter into a bully who injures unsuspecting birds, scatters lettuce leaves like a bored banker in a strip club and even starts twerking. “No way Beatrix Potter would have given the green light to this slow motion car accident,” The Guardian wrote in horror. “If you listen closely, you can hear Beatrix Potter turning in her grave,” Metro added. And that was just about the trailer.

Because there were also critics who liked the film and there is a whole generation of children who are not at all concerned with traditions and cultural heritage and just want to see a funny film with rabbits, there is now ‘just’ a second Peter Rabbit movie, which has been subtitled ‘On the Run/The Runaway’). But the makers have certainly taken some of the criticism of the first film. A secondary plotline revolves around a slippery publisher (John Boyega) who wants to run off with the creation of Bea (Rose Byrne) to earn gold with it. If it is up to him, the modernization of Pieter Rabbit and his friends will be taken a few steps further. He would prefer to send them on an adventure, into space, with a jam jar upside down. Bea finds the amounts presented to her particularly attractive, but is she willing to sacrifice her principles and ideas to do so? How ‘meta’ do you want it to be?

This subplot continues the main story, because publisher Nigel has devised the role of ‘bad guy’ for Pieter (voiced by Tommie Christiaan/James Corden) (again the big wink to the critics). After all, he’s the boldest of the bunch. But Pieter himself does not agree at all in that role; he himself believes that he is misunderstood, but is always blamed for everything. Saddened by the false image being created of him, he walks away. In the city of Gloucester, he meets an elderly rabbit Barnabas (Levi van Kempen/Lennie James), who is experienced as a petty criminal and knows exactly how to get the best food without getting caught. Together with his mates (two stray cats and an old mouse), he plans a big raid on the stall with the dried fruit (because you can keep it nice and long) at the organic market in Gloucester. To make the plan work, he asks Pieter to let his friends from the countryside help with the robbery. But whether life as a petty criminal is so blissful…?

Like its predecessor, Peter Rabbit on the run is a cleverly crafted mix of animation and live action. The comparison with, for example, ‘Paddington’ (2014), that other very British creation that was recently given a modern CGI guise, is quickly made. With the difference that the makers of ‘Paddington’ have stayed closer to the original ‘tone of voice’ of writer Michael Bond and that the makers of ‘Peter Rabbit’ have largely let go of the source material. While the first film mainly revolved around Pieter’s constant battle with Bea’s new neighbor, Thomas McGregor/Verhoef (Domhnall Gleeson), in part two Thomas plays second fiddle and the rabbits and other animals are in the spotlight. By the way, Bea and Thomas are now married and there are plans for a child. At the beginning of the film, Thomas is still at odds with Pieter for a while, but it soon becomes apparent that the two now get along quite well. The pranks that Pieter and his friends played with Thomas in the first film were a major source of annoyance among (particularly British) purists at the time. Gluck has now completely abandoned those antics, which sometimes went quite far. The action and slapstick is now mainly in the ingenious robberies that Pieter commits together with the urban animals, with the undisputed highlight being the market robbery in which an entire herd of animals is involved. Most animals have been given a nice running gag, but of course we already saw that in part 1.

Peter Rabbit on the run is an entertaining family film that happily ridicules itself (and its critics). Whether or not you can appreciate this film mainly depends on how much value you place on the traditions and cultural value attached to Beatrix Potter’s creations. Because there is little left of that cute, pastel-colored bunny from the books, even though the Peter Rabbit from this second film is not nearly as much of a bully as the one from part 1. With which a nice message is immediately shared with young viewers: if even annoying bunnies can improve their lives, then that will probably also apply to that troublemaker from their class.

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