Proving every bit as charmless and frenetic as its 2018 CG-animated predecessor, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway once again goes about chaotically tossing bunny droppings over the perfectly fertile ground that is the Beatrix Potter source material.
While the author herself was the first to admit that her main protagonist could be “naughty,” returning director Will Gluck, this time teaming with Patrick Burleigh on the underplotted script, chooses to further nudge the definition toward the brattier limits of mischievous — pushing Peter more into the guise of a floppy-eared Alvin than a cotton-tailed Paddington. The resulting uninspired rabbit redux, which saw its original 2020 debut delayed by COVID lockdowns, will first premiere this week in Australia, where it was primarily filmed.
Stateside, the Sony release has been hopping around the release schedule, moving from June 11 to May 14 and now slated to open July 2, occupying the Independence Day weekend berth at one point reserved for Universal’s Minions 2: The Rise of Gru, now postponed until Summer 2022.
Back at McGregor Manor, life for Peter (voiced by James Corden), Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), Cotton-Tail (Aimee Horne) and company has been anything but uneventful, what with the benevolent Bea (Rose Byrne) marrying high-strung Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson). For a brief moment, nemeses Peter and Thomas seem to have arrived at a fragile détente where custody over the garden is concerned, but it isn’t long before Peter ventures out into the big city in search of his true self. He soon becomes involved with a Dickensian gang of thieves led by the Fagin-like Barnabas (Lennie James).
Meanwhile, fledging author Bea also finds herself moving outside of her comfort zone when an arrogant publisher named Nigel Basil-Jones (David Oyelowo) pushes her to bring her beautifully illustrated Peter Rabbit adventure book to a broader audience by giving the characters an edgier commercial makeover, recasting Peter as a full-on bad bunny. Considering the first movie drew its share of wrath from Potter purists unamused by the crasser direction in which the gentle characters were taken, the set-up could have cashed in on some ripe satire. But Gluck and Burleigh are more concerned with trotting out the usual, garden-variety slapstick and generic one-liners.
Although Gleeson again happily takes to the physical demands of his role and Oyelowo also seems quite pleased to do something less dramatically demanding for a change, Byrne and the rest of the cast haven’t been given an awful lot to do here. The true star of the show, like the first time around, is the splendid CG animation furnished by Animal Logic and state-of-the-art VFX overseen by visual effects supervisor Will Reichelt that are seamlessly integrated into the live-action sequences.
Given the impressive technology at their disposal, had the filmmakers taken a cue from Bea and Peter’s own lesson about being true to who you are, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway might have arrived at a happier tonal intersection between Potter’s watercolors and airbrushed knockoff.
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Production companies: Columbia Pictures, 2.0 Entertainment, MRC, Animal Logic Entertainment, Olive Bridge Entertainment
Cast: James Corden, Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki, Margo Robbie, Lennie James, Sia, Colin Moody, Damon Herriman, Hayley Atwell.
Director: Will Gluck
Screenwriters: Will Gluck & Patrick Burleigh
Producers: Will Gluck, Zareh Nalbandian, Catherine Bishop, Jodi Hildebrand
Executive producers: Doug Belgrad, Jonathan Hludzinski, Jason Lust, Emma Topping, Thomas Merrington
Director of photography: Peter Menzies
Production designer: Roger Ford
Costume designer: Lizzy Gardiner
Editor: Matt Villa
Music: Dominic Lewis
Casting director: Nikki Barrett
Rated PG, 93 minutes