Growing up can be difficult enough without people telling you who they think you are.
Written and directed by Will Gluck (Easy A), Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is an enjoyable romp through the English countryside and city that never loses its heart. Balancing the outlandishly silly and simple charm, Gluck has created a sequel worthy of the original film that should entertain both children and their parents alike. Adding to the film’s effectiveness are the voice cast who are so star-studded that one will likely be shocked by some of the names attached during the end credits. (Admittedly though, other than Corden himself, one would have a difficult time identifying the other actors throughout the film strictly by their performances.)
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway takes us back to McGregor’s garden for the wedding of Bea and Thomas (Rose Byrne and Dohmnall Gleeson). Though they have no kids of their own, Bea and Thomas have developed a makeshift family with the rabbits and other animals and all seems well in their abode. Even so, despite the fact that he wants to be a good rabbit, Peter (James Corden) can’t seem to break free from his reputation of causing trouble. Then, when Bea gets a call from a publishing company about her book, the family hops into the truck and travels to the city. Suddenly out of the garden, Peter finds himself in a world where being a rascal is celebrated. After he meets Barnabas (Lenny James), an old friend of his father, Peter is invited into the criminal underworld (well, for bunnies that is) and must decide what type of rabbit he wants to be.
In some ways, The Runaway is an odd take on the franchise. On the one hand, it doesn’t always feel like the books that were read to me as a child. With my young ears, those simple tales about animals learning lessons about growing up at the farm felt almost thought-provoking with their innocence. However, the film adaptation feels like a different animal entirely. Like the first film, Runaway is filled with energy and life with an eye on pop culture and modern sensibilities. On the surface, that style of vigorous storytelling style feels like it should be incongruous with the original.
However, on the other hand, somehow Gluck blends the two styles very well together and creates something both fun and honest. Even with its urban environment and life, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway still manages to charm and delight. Instead of losing its innocence at the hands of the big, bad city, Runaway manages to bring the rural purity along for the ride. There’s an intentional desire on behalf of Gluck and his team to allow the heart of the Potter characters to remain true to the characters, despite their change in setting.
In fact, that’s very much the point of the story itself.
As Bea’s stories about Peter become a local success, she catches the eye of major publisher, Nigel Basil-Jones (David Oyelowo). Nigel loves her stories yet he also believes they can make the property even more accessible to the masses by steering the characters into increasingly wild scenarios. For Nigel, success is the standard and that can be achieved if Bea is willing to make a few compromises to her material along the way. (After all, who wouldn’t want to see rabbits in space?)
However, are these changes true to Bea’s characters ? Although fame is knocking on their garden door, Bea and Thomas begin to ask themselves whether it’s worth the cost of their integrity. To them, losing the soul of their characters would demonstrate a lack of authenticity to the stories that they had created. (This is also referenced with a hilarious wink at the camera when the rabbits suggest that these types of stories are often adapted poorly, ‘usually by some cocky American’.)
At the same time, Peter is undergoing somewhat of an identity crisis as well. Having been labelled as the ‘bad seed’ of the group, Peter is left despondent. While he’s always known that he’s a little mischievous, he has never thought of himself to be a villain. However, his new label leaves him feeling lost. If others see him as the bad guy, maybe he’s wrong about himself. Then, after meeting Barnabas, Peter is led to explore his own ‘dark side’ to see if he’s really as bad as other’s say.
Held up against one another, both stories offer slightly different takes on what it means to find out who you are. In The Runaway, Bea and Peter must both ask themselves tough questions about the quality of their character. In this way, the film becomes somewhat of a coming-of-age story as the two wrestle with whether or not the allure of a carefree life of success outweighs the concessions that they must make to get there.
Hopping along with youthful exuberance, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is a delightful film with humour and heart. Though this seems like an unlikely take on the material at first, Runaway is a delightful addition to the franchise that expands the world yet maintains its soul. Even if Peter may say that “[he] didn’t think they’d get this far”, I would welcome the chance to return to McGregor’s garden one more time should the opportunity arise.
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is available on demand on Friday, July 2nd, 2021.