MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Peter Rabbit’ has a crude streak, but it’s largely cute, clever and fun

Rose Byrne’s Bea is a friend and mother figure to the rabbits in “Peter Rabbit.”
Rose Byrne’s Bea is a friend and mother figure to the rabbits in “Peter Rabbit.” COURTESY OF Sony Pictures
Thomas, portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson, and Peter, voiced by James Corden, pretend to be pals in a scene from “Peter Rabbit.”
Thomas, portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson, and Peter, voiced by James Corden, pretend to be pals in a scene from “Peter Rabbit.” COURTESY Sony Pictures

‘Peter Rabbit’

In theaters: Feb. 9.

Rated: PG for rude humor and action.

Runtime: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Stars (of four): 2.5.

There’s a shot in the new “Peter Rabbit” in which a frog who is fishing on a lily pad — with a tiny fishing pole, mind you — freaks out when a heavy rain starts to fall and dives into the water.

Clever little jokes like that one — or a running gag in which a rooster’s crowing comes in the form of him losing his mind over the sun rising yet again despite his every expectation that after it went down the last time he never would see it again — will help adults enjoy this live action-meets-animation take on the enduring character, created more than a century ago by author and illustrator Beatrix Potter.

For children, there are the cute animal characters, of course. Perhaps more importantly, however, there’s the over-the-top humor some of them require. Much of it, they may be happy to hear, comes in the form of a guy suffering repeated instances of great physical pain resulting from his crabby, anti-rabbit behavior.

And all ages are likely to enjoy the voice work, led by late-night-TV personality James Corden as Peter but also featuring big names Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”) and Daisy Ridley (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) as two of Peter’s sisters.

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The pleasantly odd streak given to “Peter Rabbit” by writers Will Gluck, who also directs, and Rob Lieber is apparent from the movie’s opening moments when a group of singing birds — performing a number involving “aptitude” and “attitude” — are plowed into on the ground by a hard-charging, if also apologetic, Peter.

“Yeah, sorry,” echos sister Flopsy (Robbie), giving the start of what turns out to be only occasional narration. “That’s not the story we’re telling.”

Their story begins with Peter’s ongoing obsession with the full-of-delicacies garden of crabby Old Mr. McGregor (a very bearded Sam Neill), who, Peter comments, even mows his grass angrily.

Peter leads a successful, appetite-eliminating raid into the garden, but, while all escape unharmed, Peter’s blue jacket is left behind. This is a problem, you see, because that jacket was his father’s and is one of his cherished belongings that remind him of his late parents.

When Peter tries to retrieve the jacket, the old man is waiting for him and traps him. Is this the end of Peter so soon? Well, of course not, but you may not expect what happens next: Old Mr. McGregor drops dead of a heart attack. (Just be aware of that if you’re bringing little ones who may be unprepared for such a development and may have questions afterward.)

Peter takes credit for slaying the beast, if you will, and the rabbits and other animals proceed to have one wicked house party in the deceased man’s country manor. Life is good — the rabbits, who also include sister Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and cousin Benjamin Bunny (Matt Lucas), have new digs and a kind mother figure in artistic, nature-loving neighbor Bea (Rose Byrne), who adores them.

All is not calm for long, however. Far away in London, a young man named Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) loses out on a badly wanted promotion at a department store and then kind of loses his marbles. (The obsessively neat-and-organized Thomas was about to demonstrate the cleanliness of the store’s toilets by drinking water out of one when he was called away to his boss’ office, so he probably wasn’t far from a breakdown regardless.)

Thus, when a letter informing him that the great uncle he didn’t even know about left him a piece of property in the country, he decides to head there to fix it up and sell it, making sure a local cab driver knows he finds the country “disgusting.”

Once there — and following a less-than-pleasant introduction to the animals who had made themselves at home in the manor — he locks it, as well as the garden, down. Peter, of course, doesn’t take this lightly and goes to war with Thomas.

And, predictably, Thomas and Bea become interested in one another, forcing the two foes to hide their shared hatred so as not to upset Bea.

“Peter Rabbit” is a good-looking movie, the blending of live action and digital animation almost always impressing. Rarely do you even think about what must have been done to film certain sequences.

That’s partly due to Gluck (“Easy A,” 2014’s “Annie” remake), who generally keeps things humming along, even if after an hour or so adults may want this story to start working its way to its predictable end.

The English Corden obviously is the standout in the voice cast, but Lucas (“Doctor Who”) makes an impression as Benjamin, whose acknowledged “character flaw” is always following the whims, no matter how reckless, of Peter.

Byrne (“This Is Where I Leave You,” “Annie”) is very appealing as the good-hearted Bea, and Gleason is basically doing a less-ridiculous version of his over-the-top “Star Wars” villain, General Hux. The two are decent together, but nothing special.

Look, this movie is for a modern kid-filled audience, earns its PG rating and may not be pleasing to longtime fans of Potter’s work — if some reactions to the debut of the film’s trailer last year are any indication. But it’s largely fun and often funny, and at least Gluck and company throw in some nice nods to the vintage Potter illustrations.

In other words, it’s a tasty rabbit stew, but it’s a bit on the salty side.

‘Peter Rabbit’

In theaters: Feb. 9.

Rated: PG for rude humor and action.

Runtime: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Stars (of four): 2.5.