Review: ‘Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway,’ starring Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, David Oyelowo and the voices of James Corden, Colin Moody, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Aimee Horne and Lennie James

June 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

David Oyelowo, Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson with Cotton-Tail (voiced by Aimee Horne), Flopsy (voiced by Margot Robbie), Mopsy (voiced by Elizabeth Debecki), Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden) and Benjamin Bunny (voiced by Colin Moody) in “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway”

Directed by Will Gluck

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of England, “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” features a cast of characters representing humans (mostly white, with a few black and Asian people) and animals in working-class and middle-class environments.

Culture Clash: While on a family trip to London, Peter Rabbit separates himself from the rest of the group and falls in with a gang of thieving animals.

Culture Audience: “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” will appeal primarily to people looking for lightweight, family-friendly animated entertainment.

Barnabas (voiced by Lennie James), Samuel Whiskers (voiced by Rupert Degas), Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden), Mittens (voiced by Hayley Atwell) and Tom Kitten (voiced by Damon Herriman) in “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Just like the hyper rabbit who’s the title character, “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” hops all over the place, as Peter Rabbit becomes more restless about seeing the world outside of his home. This wandering spirit mostly works well in this affable sequel. And fortunately, people don’t have to see 2018’s “Peter Rabbit” movie to understand or enjoy this follow-up movie. The movies are based on the beloved Beatrix Potter children’s book series.

“Peter Rabbit” director/co-writer/producer Will Gluck returned to direct, co-write and produce “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway,” but he changed screenwriting collaborators. The “Peter Rabbit” screenplay was co-written by Rob Lieber, while Patrick Burleigh co-wrote the screenplay for “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.” The results are a much more frenetically paced, travel-oriented film that stuffs in a “race against time” plot development the last 10 minutes of the movie.

This “race against time” plot development could have worked as the plot of an entire film instead of being rushed in at the end. It seems like the filmmakers tried to incorporate several different plot ideas into the same movie instead of sticking to just one. For the most part, it works, especially if viewers have short attention spans. But other times, “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” seems as if there are three different movies in one film.

One part of the movie is about the mischievous Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden) running away from his family and befriending a gang of thieving animals. Another part of the movie is about Peter going home, missing his new friends, and recruiting his rabbit relatives and some animal pals to go back and help the gang of thieves with a big heist. And another part of the film involves a big rescue mission that won’t be revealed in this review. And there’s an over-arching theme about not changing your identity to please other people.

Because of all these different story ideas going on in the same movie, “Peter Rabbit 2” increases the energy level from the first “Peter Rabbit” movie, but sometimes to the detriment of staying focused. It’s not a perfect film. However, it’s good enough to bring some lighthearted chuckles while watching the antics of these precocious talking animals and how they interact with each other and with humans.

There are also some sly meta-references that poke fun at certain members of the cast and the “adventure story” aspect of this sequel. Some adult viewers might get the jokes. For example, Corden is somewhat of a divisive personality in real life. Some people adore him, while others think he’s extremely annoying. In “Peter Rabbit 2,” Peter asks certain animals more than once if they think his voice is annoying. It’s a question that Corden could be asking about his likability in real life.

And in other parts of the movie, there are several mentions of trying to make the “Peter Rabbit” books series more appealing to a wider audience by having the rabbits dress differently and having them embark on different adventures in various locations—even outer space. It seem like a wink and a nod to the pressures the “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” filmmakers must have felt to make this sequel more exciting than its predecessor. As such, Peter and his animal group experience more adventures outside the comfort of their country home in Windermere, England.

In the first “Peter Rabbit” movie, the plot centered mainly on Peter’s battles with members of the McGregor family who hate rabbits and other animals that might disrupt their garden where Peter and other animals like to play. First, there was crabby Old Mr. McGregor (played by Sam Neill), who died of a heart attack near the beginning of the movie. His nephew Thomas McGregor (played by Domhnall Gleeson), another cranky loner, inherited his deceased uncle’s house that’s next door to the house of an illustrative artist named Bea (played by Rose Byrne), a pleasant and gentle nurturer who loves the animals on the property.

Bea is especially fond of a family of five orphaned rabbits that she treats as if they’re her own children. The rabbits are Peter; his three sisters—insecure Flopsy Rabbit (voiced by Margot Robbie); practical Mopsy Rabbit (voiced by Elizabeth Debicki); and cynical Cotton-Tail Rabbit (voiced by Aimee Horne, who replaced Daisy Ridley)—and their older cousin Benjamin Bunny (voiced by Colin Moody), who likes to give wise advice. The rabbits think and talk like humans. But ironically, Thomas, not Bea, can hear the rabbits talk. (Flopsy is the voiceover narrator for these movies.)

The first “Peter Rabbit” movie ends the way that you expect it would. By the end of the movie, Thomas and Bea have fallen in love, Thomas has quit his sales job at Harrod’s, and he has fulfilled his dream of opening up a children’s shop that sells toys and books. Thomas has reached a tentative truce with Peter, with the agreement that Peter won’t touch Thomas’ cherished crop of tomatoes. This is information that’s mentioned at the beginning of “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.” Therefore, people who didn’t see the first “Peter Rabbit” movie and want to get the full backstory probably should see “Peter Rabbit” before watching “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.”

“Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” begins with Bea and Thomas getting married. They work together in the shop, and Thomas has been an independent publisher for Bea’s first “Peter Rabbit” book about Peter Rabbit and his family. The book, which is a hit, has caught the attention of a smooth-talking wheeler dealer named Nigel Basil-Jones (played by David Oyelowo), an executive at a major book publisher. Nigel comes into the shop one day and tells a delighted Bea that he wants to sign her to a multi-book deal that will significantly increase distribution and profits for her “Peter Rabbit” book series.

There’s just one problem: Nigel and his team of sycophantic executives think that the “Peter Rabbit” book series should be more appealing to modern audiences. Suggestions are made to change the rabbits’ wardrobe to T-shirts and jeans. And the executives want the rabbits to have adventures in other places besides the yard of their home.

Bea is excited about this possible contract and seems willing to make these changes, while Thomas and Cotton-Tail are more skeptical. Bea doesn’t want the changes to be too drastic, but she’s willing to compromise. Nigel can also be very persuasive. There’s a running joke in the movie that people can’t look into Nigel’s eyes for too long because his eyes have almost a hypnotic effect on people.

The first time that Bea and Thomas meet with Nigel in London, the spouses take their rabbit family with them by train. During Thomas and Bea’s meeting with Nigel (with the rabbits also in attendance), Nigel suggests that each of the rabbits should have nicknames that would make the rabbits’ personalities more marketable. For Benjamin, the suggested nickname is The Wise One. Cotton-Tail’s suggested nickname is The Firecracker. Identical twins Flopsy and Mopsy’s suggested nickname is The Dynamic Duo.

And for Peter, Nigel can’t decide between the nickname The Mischief Maker or The Bad Seed. Peter is insulted by both names, especially The Bad Seed, because he doesn’t think he’s bad. And he doesn’t want to be portrayed as a villain in Bea’s “Peter Rabbit” books.

Peter sneaks off from the meeting to sulk and spend time by himself. He wanders into the seedier areas of the city to the sound of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” playing on the movie’s soundtrack. It’s in this part of the city that Peter meets a rabbit who’s about the same age as Peter’s father would be if Peter’s father were still alive.

This older rabbit’s name is Barnabas (voiced by Lennie James), who is a mischief maker and a longtime thief. After causing a ruckus at an outdoor grocery stand, Barnabas and Peter run away and hide in various places, including a mailbox and a recycling bin.

During their conversations where they get to know each other, Peter tells Barnabas about his family’s up-and-down history with the McGregors. Based on this information, Barnabas then tells Peter that he knew Peter’s father. An instant connection is then formed between Peter and Barnabas. Barnabas is an old roughneck who seems to have a soft spot for Peter and seems to want to be Peter’s father figure/mentor.

Barnabas also introduces Peter to the animals who are the other members of Barnabas’ gang of thieves: a cat named Tom Kitten (voiced by Damon Herriman); Tom’s sister Mittens (voiced by Hayley Atwell); and a rat named Samuel Whiskers (voiced by Rupert Degas). There’s a misadventure involving a pet store called Piperson’s Pets, which has animal catchers roaming the streets, looking for stray animals to capture and sell.

The rest of the movie could have been spent on Peter being a runaway and his family trying to find him. However, it would be too divisive to audiences to have Peter separated from his family for most of the movie. Instead, Bea and Thomas find Peter, and he goes home with the rest of the family.

At home, Peter is still thinking about Barnabas, who was like an instant surrogate father to Peter and seemed to accept Peter for who he is. Peter longs to see Barnabas again and to continue to get Barnabas’ approval. And so, Peter hatches a plan to convince his family and some animal neighbors to help Barnabas and his gang on a major famer’s market heist, with dried fuit being the biggest prized possession for the thieves.

The rest of “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” shows what happens to those plans. Peter’s rabbit family members go along for the ride. Also recruited for this big heist are characters from the first “Peter Rabbit” movie: a hedgehog named Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (voiced by Sia); a pig named Pigling Bland (voiced by Ewen Leslie); a deer named Felix D’eer (voiced by Christian Gazal) who freezes at the sight of lights; a duck named Jemima Puddle-Duck (voiced by Byrne); and a badger named Tommy Brock (voiced by Sam Neill).

The neurotic JW Rooster III (voiced by Jack Andrew), with his now-older children, make recurring appearances, with the running joke that rooster thinks that the day can’t start unless he crows correctly. With all these animal characters, the humans in the story could be overshadowed. However, there’s enough of a balance and a reminder that these domesticated animals, for all of their rebellion, still rely on humans to get their food.

The comedy in “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” isn’t a laugh a minute. There’s a lot of predictable slapstick, of course, with Peter usually finding himself in trouble in one way or another. Thomas is still gangly and awkward, so he’s the human character who’s the most likely to be the butt of the slapstick jokes. Cotton-Tail brings some laughs with her ongoing pessimistic sarcasm.

“Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” also has a recurring gag where Cotton-Tail over-indulges in eating candy, gets very hyperactive from a sugar high, and then her energy level crashes and burns. A joke that doesn’t work as well is Flopsy’s decision to call herself Lavoratory because she’s tired of her identity being so intwined with her identical twin Mopsy. This decision doesn’t last, but it’s a little disappointing that the filmmakers would make one the narrator of the movie call herself a toilet and that she wasn’t smart enough to know what a lavoratory was in the first place.

The movie’s soundtrack has the same rock/pop tone as the first “Peter Rabbit” movie, with prominent placement of tunes from the 1990s and 2010s. Supergrass’ 1995 hit “Alright” seems to be the unofficial theme song for the movie, since it’s played more than once in key scenes. Gluck’s direction moves the film along at a brisk but occasionally uneven pace, since the last 10 minutes of the movie really look like the narrative of the story went on fast-forward.

The movie’s visual effects that combine live action with animation continue to look seamless, thanks to the good work of visual effects company Animal Logic, which also did the visual effects for the first “Peter Rabbit” film. Will this movie win any major awards? No. Just like the visual effects, acting and everything else in the movie “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” fulfills its purpose of providing satisfactory entertainment for people of many age groups, but the work isn’t so outstanding that people will think that it’s the best of the best.

Columbia Pictures will release “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” in U.S. cinemas on June 11, 2021. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on May 17, 2021.