Peter Rabbit is one of the most obnoxious family films I've seen this decade. It's just such a smug, annoying picture, filled with unfunny and mean-spirited slapstick. Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is a slight improvement, in that it's merely mediocre. Sitting through this sequel was less painful than sitting through the original. There are, however, other options out there for parents to watch with their children – stuff that's smarter, funnier, more magical, etc. At best, this is just a time-killer, something to see if you only care about having your kids be quiet for ninety minutes.
The story opens with the wedding of Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) and Bea (Rose Byrne). Peter (voiced with irritating over-enthusiasm by James Corden) is uncertain about how he'll fit into this union, especially if they ever decide they want children. Bea has been selling her book about Peter and his friends at her little shop. When a big city publisher named Nigel Basil-Jones (David Oyelowo) wants to mass market it, the gang takes a train to London to meet with him. Over time, it becomes clear that he wants her to make her charming tale more “hip” and “commercial” by putting the rabbits in t-shirts and setting the sequels in outer space.
Meanwhile, Peter meets Barnabas (Lennie James), an older rabbit who runs a gang of animal thieves. Feeling his days with Thomas and Bea may be numbered, he joins the group as they plot to rob a farmer's market of its entire dried fruit section. I'm not kidding. That's actually the plot of this movie. Peter's siblings Flopsy (Margot Robbie) and Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) get pulled in as well.
Because it doesn't focus on the tensions between Peter and Thomas, Peter Rabbit 2 isn't as nasty as its predecessor. Nothing here is on the level of that scene where Peter and friends try to kill Thomas by pelting him with blackberries, knowing he has a potentially fatal allergy to them. Instead, the slapstick is of a more generic variety. Someone trying to stop a runaway car, a bunny bouncing around a train compartment while on a sugar high, and animals crashing into food stands at the farmer's market are on the comedy menu this time. Young kids may giggle at some of the antics. Adults will likely be less amused.
One really strange element of the movie is its message. Nigel and his team want Bea to give her next book an action-packed ending with a chase scene involving multiple different types of transportation. That idea is presented as selling out and pandering to the lowest common denominator. Peter Rabbit 2 then concludes with an action-packed chase scene involving – you guessed it – multiple different types of transportation. The picture even winks at the audience as it does this. So what's the point, that the filmmakers know they're just pandering? That they're making no pretense of artistic integrity? What a cynical message to send to the young audience at whom the movie is aimed.
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway would be better staying more true to the Beatrix Potter tales it's based on. Or if a performer less cloying than Corden had done the voice. Or if it simply didn't rely so heavily on lazy cliches and obvious jokes. Again, it's a slight improvement over the original, although that's a mighty low bar to clear.
out of four
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is rated PG for some rude humor and action. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.