April 7th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Free trade agreements leave us even more dependent on China

EDITORIAL Why Russia re-elected Vladimir Putin

CANBERRA OBSERVED Empty seat last vestige of minor parties' party

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Liberals take power but plan for none for SA

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Sexual exploitation at Oxfam symptom of culture of death

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM General protection gives a false sense of security

PHILOSOPHY AND CULTURE On celestial politics

GENDER POLITICS Trans ideology awash with big money from big biomed and big pharma

REGIONAL AFFAIRS Taiwan stands up to Beijing's bullyboy tactics

CINEMA Outstanding film follows St Paul to his death in Rome

HUMOUR An Appetite for Diamonds: Porphyry Volpone investigates

MUSIC Power playing: Technique v musicality

CINEMA Peter Rabbit: More Bugs than Beatrix, but lots of fun

BOOK REVIEW We're doomed; but we're not alone

BOOK REVIEW Subcontinent set for Asian century


NATIONAL AFFAIRS The deeper causes of Australia's social malaise

GENDER POLITICS Queensland proposes transgender birth certificates

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Peter Rabbit: More Bugs than Beatrix, but lots of fun

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, April 7, 2018

Peter Rabbit is not Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. Where the originals were whimsical and delicate Edwardian morality tales, this film is more of a high-octane, slapstick romantic comedy-drama. But it is a surprisingly moral and perceptive – if popcornish – study of relationships and responsibility.

And, while those who love the tales are likely to grit their teeth and barely bear it, the kids, at least at every showing I attended, loved it.

Peter Rabbit (James Corden) is an irresponsible, arrogant and supremely self-confident blighter, who is “responsible” for his sisters Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley), since his father was put in a pie by Old Farmer McGregor (Sam Neill) and his mother died.

Aided by cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody), the rabbits conduct a raid on McGregor’s farm. Peter gets caught as a result of his hubris, only to be rescued by artsy neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne). Peter considers this a momentary delay and returns as soon as he can to retrieve his jacket. Peter is caught again, but Old McGregor dies suddenly of a heart attack and the animals take over the farm and the house.

Meanwhile, in London, we meet McGregor’s nephew Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), a perfectionistic and obsessive junior manager at Harrods. Thomas didn’t know he had an uncle and isn’t particularly upset about the news of his death. But he is upset at the news he’s been passed over for promotion and goes berserk. On discovering the value of his uncle’s estate, he heads to the country to prepare it for sale, arriving to find it overrun by wildlife.

He soon meets Bea, and despite his obsessive desire to keep the rabbits out, starts to unwind and become more open to the country. As he and Bea become closer, Peter becomes more jealous and declares all-out war, which escalates as Thomas gets more irate and the techniques used by the rivals become more and more extreme.

Peter Rabbit is clearly not the Peter Rabbit of Beatrix’s Potter’s imagination. Instead it takes the characters and some of the tropes and transposes it to the present day, reimagining Peter as a rebellious and self-important teenager, instead of a mischievous child. Where the original stories were elegant and delicate, gentle morality tales for children, this movie is arch and self-referential, oh so clever and edgy. It owes as much to Bugs Bunny and over-the-top romantic comedies, as it does to Beatrix Potter and the English tradition.

The movie’s most controversial scene provocatively highlights the differences in this reimagining. The rabbits pelt Thomas with blackberries, knowing he’s allergic and causing him to go into anaphylactic shock, saving himself with an EpiPen just in time. Parents were outraged. However, the scene highlights that while Peter may be the “hero”, he is actually a nasty piece of work driven by his passions without any self-restraint. His later heroism comes from overcoming these flaws; but, if he hadn’t, they would have led to the destruction of everything he held dear.

Peter and Thomas are flip sides of the one coin. Both grew up without parents, and have chosen different but equally unhealthy ways to cope. Peter does whatever he wants without regard for the consequences, while Thomas has become obsessive and controlling, an awkward neurotic who is unable to bend.

At heart, though, both Thomas and Peter both want to help others and make them happy, but neither is balanced in how he goes about it, and lets himself be ruled by his knee-jerk reactions.

What causes them to change, both for the worse and for the better, is their love for Bea.

Bea’s presence, and the realisation that they’re going to bring about her absence, causes Peter and Thomas to grow up to make things right. But Bea is more than a plot device that exists for the sake of the other characters. She is a capable artist – even if her “real” paintings are incomprehensible – and a stand-in for Beatrix Potter, an independent woman focused on living a meaningful life, rather than a materially successful one.

Through all its pyrotechnics, therefore, a living heart beats inside this picture. It’s not Beatrix Potter’s, though, but the film is not as bad as it could have been. And the kids absolutely loved it. They couldn’t stop laughing.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

All you need to know about
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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm