★★★½ - STUFF
- Fourth-wall shattering sequel offers fab family fun -
The 2018 original was a long way from the anthropomorphised vege-stealing bunny of your grandmother’s youth.
A sass-filled combination of live action and CGI animation, Peter Rabbit was a raucous and risque comedy notable for being brash, brazen, bellicose (it was after all directed by the man who had previous turned The Scarlet Letter into a high school comedy – 2009’s Easy A) and offering up terrific entertainment for the whole family.
While the eponymous James Corden-voiced seemingly indefatigable bundle of optimism and mischief could be more than a little grating, it was hard not to be won over by the wall-to-wall gags and terrific human performances from Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson and our own Sam Neill.
Having been delayed by a year due to a certain global pandemic (and New Zealanders are seeing it months ahead of many other territories), this sequel, subtitled The Runaway, opens with Thomas (Gleeson) and Bea (Byrne) cementing their relationship with a storybook wedding.
Life is rosy for the couple and the inhabitants of their farm, everyone seemingly living harmoniously, while Bea’s book about their antics has proved to be something of a hit. As she contemplates a lucrative deal that would allow her to achieve her ambition of a “23-book series, with 109 characters and intertwining morality lessons”, Thomas dreams of selling his tomatoes at the local farmers market.
Both require a train trip to Gloucester, accompanied by their quintet of coneys. But while Bea’s meeting with potential publisher Nigel Basil-Jones (David Oyelowo) goes favourably, both she and Peter are a little concerned at his suggestion that her immediate follow-up focus on him as either “a mischief-maker” or a “bad seed”. “I’ve made some mistakes, but it feels like the die is cast,” Peter grumps, as he takes to the streets in a huff.
It’s while in his fugue though that he meets street bunny Barnabas (Lennie James). Claiming to be an old cobber of Peter’s late father, he introduces the impressionable lapin to his crew and the food-filled delights of a life of crime.
So while Peter eventually chooses to go back home, he can’t help but feel slightly seduced by the promises of gourmet riches, especially when Barnabas suggests they could achieve “the holy grail”, a daring raid on the farmer’s market, if Peter can just persuade some of his farmyard family to join in.
The central heist is just one of the many delights on offer in this surprisingly solid sequel. While Byrne is somewhat disappointingly sidelined and Peter often feels like a bit-player (or the weakest link) in his own story, the slaps, shtick and seemingly endless sight-gags eventually coalesce into a rollicking good time.
The celebrity-voiced support players, old and new, all get their moments to shine, with Hayley Atwell’s nefarious Mittens, Rupert Degas’ Samuel Whiskers and Stewart Alves’ Mr Tod the scene-stealing standouts. Gleeson though will likely elicit the biggest laughs from the younger members of the audience, thanks largely to two CGI-enhanced pratfall scenes.
In the end though, The Runaway delivers its real joys for anyone over the age of nine in its self-awareness. This doesn’t so much break the fourth-wall, as shatter it, as Gluck and co-writer Patrick Burleigh take aim at movie adaptations, book franchising and even the characters themselves.
“I’ll be spinning in my grave if my books are adapted into a sassy hip-fest – probably by an American,” Bea opines at one point, while Peter admits to being “terrible at foreign accents and great at cartoon violence”. Later, a series of James Bond-style action sequences are truly inspired and delightful.
Fabulous, feel-good family fun, this Rabbit’s return might lack Paddington’s heart, originality and sheer inventiveness, but it offers a terrific reason to head back to the cinema this long Easter weekend.
- James Croot, STUFF
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is now playing at Light House Cinema!