If, like me, you grew up with Bugs and not Beatrix Potter’s much-loved Peter, you might be surprised to discover that the two rabbits’ personalities are not a million miles apart. I don’t recall the wise-cracking Bugs ever showing genuine contrition for anything that he might have done to Elmer Fudd, but otherwise there is no splitting the two in ego and scheming naughtiness. After the grouchy old farmer who killed Peter’s parents has carked it, a young nephew, Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), moves to the property from Knightsbridge, where he has been sacked for having a tanty at Harrods. Thomas proceeds to get too chummy for Peter’s liking with Bea (Rose Byrne), the pretty artist-next-door who has befriended all of the farmyard creatures. A war of wills ensues, with Peter’s rabbits going blow for blow with Thomas while Bea is completely oblivious to the war being waged behind her back. Seeing this enchanting, funny (the rooster shrieking hysterically for dawn every morning is a scream) and at times poignant movie surrounded by squealing, rapt little girls was a reminder of how cinema can magically transport its audience to another world. Based closely on Potter’s original drawings, the visuals are absolutely convincing from the outset – I had no trouble believing in the talking rabbits – while the rural location shots are picture-book cosy and, in the case of the trip to London (accompanied by the Proclaimers’ 500 Miles, exhilarating. As is regularly so in animated features these days, even those aimed at the youngest viewers, a lot of the dialogue goes straight over the kids’ heads – when it is sarcastically mentioned that nepotism is a national trait of the British, I can’t imagine any of the children understanding the line. But they laughed like blazes when an electrified doorknob blew Thomas from one side of the room to the other. Whoever came up with the idea of using meerkats in advertising struck gold because, despite the cargo-cult of high-tech, anthropomorphism, typified by Peter, still thrives in our native hearts.
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