The sequel to 2018’s Peter Rabbit is finally upon us, which is a full circle moment for cinemas as they open up, hopefully for good this time. Along with A Quiet Place Part II, this was one of the films that was just about to release when the world went into lockdown, to the extent that posters and promotional tie ins were displayed for weeks after, like some ominous artefact from another timeline.
Around a year later, the film makes it to our screens. This time Peter (voiced by James Corden) is trying to mend his ways following the marriage of Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) and Bea (Rose Byrne). However, his old reputation, and new found fame as the star of Bea’s popular storybook, means he ventures out into the nearby town and into the fold of Barnabas (Lennie James), a rabbit who wishes to use Peter’s mischief for his own ends. While she fights with a publisher (David Oyelowo) who wishes to bring an edgier tone to her book, Bea and Thomas also search for their missing family member, before he chooses the wrong path.
The first film was an odious attempt to make Beatrix Potter’s character modern, squeezing the debatable charm of voice lead James Corden into furry form. Those expecting the gentler tones of the books, or a film akin to the Paddington films, were saddened to find something more obnoxious. The sequel’s plot seems to at least mildly acknowledge that fact, setting up a story about staying true to who you are. Disappointingly, it never delves too deeply into that message, choosing the lowbrow route at every turn. The human characters argue over maintaining the soul of a character, but the filmmakers seem perfectly happy to push Peter further into franchise territory.
There are moments that will be enjoyable for families. Peter’s storyline gently mimics the tropes of the heist movie genre, with former Guy Ritchie collaborator James offering a PG presentation of a cockney gangster. As with the last film, the animation is also terrific, weaving in with the human cast who are perfectly happy to throw themselves into something a bit lighter.
Those lighter moments are not enough to save a film that again feels like the most cynical of studio prospects. The recently crowned Greatest Film Ever, Paddington 2, proved nice doesn’t mean boring, and one can only hope that audiences see through the efforts of a film that seems to be ashamed of its own source material.
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is in cinemas now.