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.

Review: ‘The Burnt Orange Heresy,’ starring Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland

March 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

Donald Sutherland, Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Debicki and Claes Bang in “The Burnt Orange Heresy” (Photo by Jose Haro)

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” 

Directed by Giuseppe Capotondi

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy and briefly in New York City, the dramatic film “The Burnt Orange Heresy” (which has an all-white cast) tells an intriguing story of secrets and lies in the privileged world of collecting fine art.

Culture Clash: It’s not uncommon for some of the characters to break laws in order to keep up appearances.

Culture Audience: “The Burnt Orange Heresy” will appeal primarily to fans of arthouse cinema who like thrillers about social climbing and people who play guessing games about their true selves.

Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debicki in “The Burnt Orange Heresy” (Photo by Jose Haro)

It’s utterly fitting that rare paintings are the fine art that’s the focus of the noir-ish thriller “The Burnt Orange Heresy.” Because just like a blank canvas, many of the characters in the film have personalities and identities that can shift on a whim and can be designed and painted over in a certain way, in order to be appealing to other people. The movie also takes a blistering look at the fickle and highly subjective nature of fine-art collecting, which places more value on brand names and how art pieces are marketed rather than on the art itself.

In the beginning of the story, which takes place mostly in Italy, viewers meet central character James Figueras (played by Claes Bang), a charismatic Brit who’s an art critic and author. He’s single and living alone living in Milan. The movie’s opening alternates between James giving a lecture to a group of about 50 people (mostly elderly tourists) and his cynical rehearsal of his lecture while he’s at home.

During his speaking appearance, James shows an abstract painting and tells a compelling story about the painting’s artist. James says the artist was a young Norwegian man named Nils, who was 16 when the Nazis invaded Norway in 1940. Nils and his twin sister Nora were kept in a concentration camp, and Nils’ portrait paintings for the Nazis were what helped keep the siblings alive. However, Nils was so ashamed that he was forced to do paintings for the Nazis that he vowed never to paint a human or use a paint brush again when he created paintings. (Nora tragically died of consumption in 1955.)

James then says that the painting he has on display during the lecture is the last painting from Nils. He then asks the audieence how many of them would want to buy the painting. Nearly all of them raise their hands. James then reveals that he really did the painting, not Nils, and that almost everything he said about the painting and Nils is a lie. James then asks the audience how many of them would still want to buy the painting. Almost no one raises their hand, except for a young woman sitting in the back of the room.

James tells the audience that this delibrate hoax during the lecture was designed to show the audience how someone’s statement about art carries a great deal of weight in how art is valued. He says that it demonstrates the power of the critic and “why you should be careful around someone like me.” It’s a self-serving concept because James is the author of a book called “The Power of the Critic,” which he happily autographs for the tourists who buy the book after his lecture.

The young female tourist at the back of the room who was the only one to raise her hand after the hoax was revealed approaches James after the lecture. They flirt in a way that indicates that they’re sexually attracted to each other. Her name is Berenice Hollis (played by Elizabeth Debicki), and she’s an American visiting in Italy. After some more flirting, it’s no surprise that James and Berenice end up in bed together at James’ place.

The morning after, as Berenice gets ready to leave, she essentially tells James that she had fun, but she sees their encounter as a one-night stand. James offers her an “upper” pill from a stash he keeps in a pill bottle, and she takes the pill. James then tells her that he’s been asked to go to the Lake Como estate of Joseph Campbell (played by Mick Jagger, in his first movie acting role since 2002’s “The Man From Elysian Fields”), a wealthy art collector. James doesn’t really know why he’s been summoned to Joseph’s villa, but he thinks there’s a possible job opportunity in it for him. James impulsively invites Berenice to join him on the trip, even though they barely know each other. Without much hesitation, she says yes.

As James and Berenice take the scenic drive to Lake Como, a voice mail message being left at James’ empty home can be heard in a voiceover. The female caller leaving the message tells James that his check has bounced and to call her back to sort out the issue. All of this happens within the first 15 minutes of “The Burnt Orange Heresy.” Viewers now know three more things about James: He’s got a drug problem, he’s got a money problem, and he’s got a problem with telling the truth. What could possibly go wrong?

When they arrive at Joseph’s grand villa and are waiting for him in the parlor, James comments to Berenice about the paintings hanging on the wall. He smugly comments that Joseph over-paid for one of the paintings, just as Joseph walks in and hears the tail end of the conversation. Despite overhearing James’ insult, Joseph greets them enthusiastically and sizes up his guests immediately.

It’s here that Berenice reveals more about herself than she did when she was alone with James, because Joseph is the one to ask Berenice about her background. Berenice says she’s from Duluth, Minnesota, but she’s vague about what she does for a living. It’s clear that she wants to fit in with her upper-class surroundings, and she might be hiding something about her past.

James and Berenice are invited to dinner with Joseph, who causally says that he married into wealth, and the estate really belongs to his wife, who’s away because she’s traveling with their children. In order to disarm his visitors, who clearly come from a different social class, manipulative Joseph has revealed that he doesn’t come from a rich family, so that his guests will feel more at ease with him. The tactic works. When James and Joseph are alone together, Joseph tells him the real reason why he was invited for a visit.

Joseph has a big secret: A famously reclusive painter has been living in the guest house on the property. Joseph makes James tries to guess who it is before he reveals the painter’s identity. The famous recluse is Jerome Debney, an American who’s somewhat described as the J.D. Salinger of the art world.  Jerome had great success when he was young, but he stopped painting and disappeared at the height of his fame in 1968, after his life’s work was destroyed by a fire. Jerome has been such a recluse for years, that many people in the art world believe the rumor that Jerome is no longer alive.

But now, Jerome has been living in close proximity to Joseph, who doesn’t want to the recluse to know that Joseph is aware of Jerome’s true identity. How has Jerome been able to make money for all of these years as a recluse? Jerome has been getting his income from grants, according to Joseph.

James has been summoned to the estate because Joseph wants James to try to get an interview with Jerome. And why was James chosen out of all of the art journalists in the world? One of Joseph’s servants had observed Jerome reading one of James’ articles and heard Jerome commenting out loud that James was an art critic whom he admired.

The interview has an ulterior motive: James is supposed to get close enough to Jerome to steal one of the secret paintings that Joseph is sure that Jerome has done while in seclusion. Joseph hasn’t actually seen any such painting, but he’s certain at least one exists. Joseph says that James will be richly rewarded for this theft, which Joseph plans to pass off as a long-lost Debney painting that might be the only one left in the world.

A skeptical James asks Joseph what’s in it for him if he can only get an interview with Debney, but not a painting. Joseph then turns sinister and tells James that he has to get the painting, or else Joseph will reveal information about James that could completely ruin James’ career. (The blackmail details won’t be revealed in this review.) Joseph also tells James that he knows about an embezzlement scandal from James’ past and that James is having financial difficulties because the scandal damaged his career. It’s why a disgraced James has been reduced to barely living in the margins of the art world by giving art lectures to tourists.

The most contrived part of this movie’s story is how James ends up meeting Jerome (played by Donald Sutherland), a man with a refined demeanor, a Southern lilt to his voice and a mysterious past. While James and Berenice are lounging out by the pool, Jerome happens to casually stroll into the pool area and strike up a conversation with these two strangers, as if he’s a neighbor popping over for a visit anytime he pleases. It’s very out-of-character for a man who’s supposedly been hiding from the world for decades, so viewers will have to suspend their disbelief that Jerome just conveniently walked into James’ life in this manner.

However, the movie’s plot isn’t about the search for Jerome, because he’s already been found. When Jerome first meets James and Berenice, Jerome doesn’t know if they’re aware of his true identity as a famous painter. But James can’t hide being star-struck, and he makes it clear that he knows exactly who Jerome is. In turn, when James introduces himself, Jerome recognizes him as the art critic he admires.

James doesn’t waste time in asking Jerome for an interview, but Jerome doesn’t say yes so easily. He makes James do swimming laps in the pool before he’ll give an answer. James is reluctant at first to do the laps, but Jerome tells him that the longer he hesitates, the more laps he’ll have to do to get the interview.

After he’s sufficiently humiliated James, Jerome surprises James and Berenice by inviting them on a boat ride, followed by a meal back at his place. Jerome says that James can interview him during this excursion. The reason for Jerome’s generosity has less to do with James and more to do with Berenice. Jerome is quite taken with Berenice and relishes spending more time with her. And if she’s with another man, so be it. It’s easy to see why Jerome, as a lonely old man who craves female companionship, would agree to do the interview if Berenice is part of the experience.

The interview is the catalyst for some tension-filled twists and turns in the story. More secrets are revealed, and more lies are told. And the resulting actions will make viewers wonder what they would do if they were in the same situation. (The title of the movie is also explained during the story.)

Throughout the movie, director Giuseppe Capotondi skillfully conveys a tone to the movie that accurately reflects how pretentious the main characters are in the film. They appear to be casually blasé about their connections to the power and privilege in the world of highly priced fine art, but underneath, they’re all desperate for something.

James is desperate for a comeback that will make him and rich and famous. Joseph is desperate for a Debney painting that will considerably elevate Joseph’s status in the art world. Berenice is desperate for validation by people who are more sophisticated than she is. Jerome is desperate to find a human connection after years of isolating himself from the world.

All of the actors play their roles very well by convincingly portraying these superficial yet complicated people, who put on airs that they’re wonderful, yet in reality they’re all deeply flawed. Jagger, in particular, seems to take a delicious relish to his role, since he undoubtedly knows many people like Joseph Campbell. Sutherland (who is Canadian in real life) has played the courtly Southern American gentleman before, but his Jerome Debney character is a little more troubled than he first seems to be,

Bang (who is Danish in real life) has perhaps the movie’s most transparent character to viewers, since we see early on that James is prone to corruption, has a drug problem, and is in dire financial straights. However, the way Bang plays him, there are little glimmers of possibility that James isn’t completely selfish and he might actually be falling in love with Berenice. Debicki (who is Australian in real life) adeptly handles the nuances of her Berenice character, who will keep people guessing about her levels of morality and emotional intelligence.

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” screenplay by Scott B. Smith, based on the book of the same name by Charles Willeford, changes the movie’s era and location from 1970s Florida to modern-day Italy. It’s a wise revision because a Lake Como estate is a more glamorous setting befitting a wealthy international art collector. And the art world has changed dramatically since the 1970s, because the stakes are much higher and the brand names of well-known contemporary artists have reached new levels of fame, thanks to the Internet.

At one point in the movie, Jerome talks about the proverbial masks that people put on to hide their true selves and present another version of themselves to the world. He admits to Berenice in a candid conversation how he’s one of those people who’s put on so many layers of masks, he might not know anymore who he really is underneath it all. More than the quest for a rare painting, “The Burnt Orange Heresy” is about the lengths that people will go to keep putting on those masks and the desperation that results if one of those masks threatens to fall off.

Sony Pictures Classics released “The Burnt Orange Heresy” in New York City and Los Angeles on March 6, 2020. The movie’s U.S. release expands to more cities on March 13, 2020.

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