As someone who is only vaguely familiar with the source material – Beatrix Potter's The Tale Of Peter Rabbit and The Tale Of Benjamin Bunny – I would assume that this latest cinematic adaptation is not one for the purists. A mix of live action and animation, much like The Smurfs or Alvin and the Chipmunks, the new Peter Rabbit modernises the stories somewhat and pits the titular bunny (voiced by James Corden) against a new adversary when vegie gardener Old Mr McGregor (Sam Neill) drops dead of a heart attack. McGregor's great-nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) inherits the house, moves down from London and is immediately at war with Peter and his siblings, while also finding himself smitten by the artist next door, Bea (Rose Byrne) – who is a staunch defender of the furry little pests.
Corden is perfectly cast as Peter, who is played here very much as a cheeky chappy and a bit of a bully boy who thinks he has every right to steal food from anywhere he likes. Peter is joined on his misadventures by siblings Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley) and cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody), along with an assortment of mice, pigs, sparrows, frogs, hedgehogs, foxes and badgers – plus a rather twitchy rooster who seems to be drinking way too much coffee every morning.
The animation is nigh-on perfect, making it very easy to believe that the very cute little woodland critters are all a part of the real world. The humour, too – while probably of the kind that would make creator Potter not just turn, but spin in her grave – is perfectly suited to the modern audience. It's sly, edgy, irreverent, sometimes snarky, occasionally a little rude (although not too crude) and generally raises a smile if not an out-loud laugh (there are a few of those to be had, too). it's Beatrix Potter by way of Alvin and the Chipmunks.
The rest of the cast are solid, led in the live-action stakes by the always-reliable Byrne alongside Gleeson who does a very fine turn in slapstick physical comedy. Surprisingly for a film based on a pretty traditional English story, much of the cast is Australian; as well as Byrne, among the voice cast you have Robbie, Debicki, Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown, as Peter's parents, and David Wenham. Plus the token Kiwi in Sam Neill.
While it's far from perfect – the Potter purists have been crying out for an adaptation for years, and they are still waiting – this frantically-paced Peter Rabbit manages more hits than misses. It's not quite in the same league as the utterly delightful Paddington films, but it's satisfying family entertainment.
EXTRAS: A special Mini-Movie, called Flopsy Turvey, a story all about the three little girl bunnies (3:55); the behind-the-scenes featurette Peter Rabbit Mischief In The Making (7:25); and the Shake Your Cotton-Tail Dance Along (2:36), a music video – complete with dancing kiddies and cartoon animals – for the song I Promise You, which features in the film. Plus a bunch of trailers.