This sassy sequel, with James Corden as the voice of Peter Rabbit, snarks at itself while also snarking at viewers.
By Ben Kenigsberg
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“Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” wants to have its carrot and eat it, too. For anyone who complained that the 2018 live action-animation hybrid “Peter Rabbit” betrayed Beatrix Potter’s whimsical vision, and seemed less concerned with the plunder of Mr. McGregor’s vegetables than with its own raid of corporate music catalogs, the sequel, once again directed by Will Gluck, pre-empts such objections.
Bea (Rose Byrne), the rabbits’ surrogate mother, has turned their adventures into a book. Its success attracts the attention of a publisher (David Oyelowo), who woos Bea with fancy cars and the rabbits with sparkling water and crudités. He envisions a 23-book series featuring 109 characters. Bea fears her work might be adapted into something sassy and hip — in other words, into a movie like “Peter Rabbit 2.” And if it’s annoying to watch a follow-up snark at itself while implicitly snarking at viewers for buying tickets to a crass-ified Peter Rabbit, the conceit offers evidence that things might have been worse. At least Gluck doesn’t send Peter into space.
Also annoying is that the commercial calculations are still livelier than the wholesome dialogue between Peter (James Corden supplies his voice) and Bea’s new husband, Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson, miscast both as a romantic lead and the Mr. Wilson to Peter’s Dennis the Menace). It is more fun when Peter, having sulk-walked to Green Day, encounters Barnabas (Lennie James), a thief rabbit who enlists him for a heist at a farmers’ market. Note to bunny criminal masterminds: The prize score is the dried fruit.
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. In theaters.
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