Sections of the British press view American director, Will Gluck, as the antichrist. Back in 2018, Gluck came over here and took our bunnies, transforming Beatrix Potter’s whimsical protagonists into a bunch of vulgar, modern-day marauders. This time round he has Mrs Tiggy-Winkle go full ninja. Is nothing sacred?
I liked elements of the first film, but the sequel is tons better. For starters, it’s gloriously self-aware. As well as touching on “cartoon violence”, a major plot thread sees decent Lake District writer/illustrator Bea Potter (Rose Byrne) being encouraged to compromise her pastoral visions by a charming, franchise-obsessed publisher, Nigel (David Oyelowo; divine). Potter says she’d rather spin in her grave than have her books turned into a “sassy hip feste” that “someone, probably an American”, can “boorishly capitalise on”. Touché!
Elsewhere, the script gives more room to previously indistinguishable sister bunnies, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail (Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Aimee Horne) and puts emotional flesh on naughty Peter (James Corden), who’s so demoralised when he gets pigeon-holed as a “bad seed”, by Nigel, that he runs away and accidentally joins a violent gang.
As an actor, Corden doesn’t have a big range (as demonstrated by his awkward turn in The Prom). Luckily, the part of Peter - a smart and emotional “boy’s boy” - plays to his strengths.
Just as enjoyable is Bea’s “wildly insecure” husband, Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) and a grizzled rat, aka Samuel Whiskers (Rupert Degas).
Samuel Whiskers is one of literature’s coldest villains. As a child, just seeing pictures of that portly and implacable cat-killer made me feel slightly faint. Anyway, Gluck and co-writer Patrick Burleigh would rather tickle than terrify (though one scene, involving peer pressure and a dank basement, is very dark) and have refigured the character as a laconic Scouser, prone to the kind of digressions about olde time culture that would do The Simpsons’ writer John Swartzwelder proud (Whiskers and Tom Kitten are in cahoots, by the way, which is as unsettling and cathartic, as seeing Red Riding Hood and the wolf arm in arm).
Great care has been taken with the visuals. A farmers market is lovingly re-created, while a bowl of sparkling water allows for a reflected image that’s technically ingenious. Look out, too, for a sight gag regarding the UK press. The director insists the ribbing is “good-natured”. Well, he would. Wouldn’t he?
Gluck is hardly an underdog, but he’s certainly taken a pounding from his British foes. He’s now hard at work on a Peter Rabbit threeqel. If this is war, it would seem that he’s winning.
Peter Rabbit 2 is available to view in cinemas from May 17