Review – Bea’s Bad-Boy Bunny Is Back! (“Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway”)

I have to admit that I loved the first Peter Rabbit movie. James Corden voicing the title bunny in his misadventures, along with the human antics of Rose Bryne & Domhnall Gleeson was unexpected, hilarious, and wildly entertaining. But will this second movie suffer from sequelitis?

Long-delayed in theaters because of you-know-what, this movie picks up right after the events of part one, where we find the humans who met in part one, Thomas and Bea (Domhnall & Bryne), getting married. Despite that, the talking, anthropomorphic bunny who wears clothes, Peter Rabbit (voiced again by Corden), always seems to get in trouble, even though it’s not his fault. As the newly married McGregor’s settle into their new shop in town, selling toys and Bea’s new book about Peter and his friends, they get startling news. A big-time publisher in the city, named Nigel Basil-Jones (David Oyelowo), wants to option Bea’s little book to the world!

Thomas and Bea take Peter and his bunny family to meet this guy. Benjamin the wise (Colin Moody), always competing twins Flopsy & Mopsy (Margot Robbie & Elizabeth Debicki), and the untrusting Cottontail (Aimee Horne). Appealing to Bea’s naïveté and stroking her ego, Nigel gets her to sign a contract. . . provided she alters her storylines from a kid-friendly whimsical look to a more updated, hip-looking, 20th Century feel. This means making Peter into a “bad seed” character, which he does NOT appreciate, causing him to run away and fall in with a Fagin-like group of animal thieves in town.

The second act switches gears and plays like Dickens Oliver, where Peter and his new bad-boy bunny buddy, Barnabas (Lennie James) pull off fruit & vegetable heists, with the help of his dastardly cat & mouse crew. Accepting his fate as a ‘bad seed’, Peter resigns to be a villain and convinces his family of extended animal friends back home to join him on a dangerous Mission: Impossible theft at the Farmers Market. While this is going on, a sub-plot is sneaking around the corner as Thomas, when he’s not fixated on growing his prize tomatoes, is concerned that Bea is selling out and compromising her original vision.

The third act shifts into overdrive as everyone’s plans go terribly wrong, and all our heroes have to pay a price for their actions which, for the kiddies in the audience, is a valuable lesson learned. And how do they save the day, you may ask? By an absolutely silly, ridiculous, over-the-top, LOL hilarious, chase/rescue scene that is straight out of a Bond film. As clever and well-written as the first film was, this sequel is almost as much fun and nearly loaded with as much meta-humor and slapstick jokes. Thank goodness the vocal talent still rocks!

Director and co-writer Will Gluck (Peter Rabbit, Easy A), along with newbie co-writer Patrick Burleigh, tried to duplicate the in-your-face outrageous humor and LOL laughs that the first film had and, yes, they did succeed in many scenes. But this time the story is laced with more adult themes of loss, self-esteem issues, and how others look at you and having less goofiness and crazy antics, although there is that peppered here and there. Domhnall & Bryne are just so lovable in this, with Bryne as the innocent, wide-eyed newbie author and Domhnall giving his usual manic performance, but only occasionally treating us to his terrific Charlie Chaplin-ish pratfalls. I miss that!!

**Now showing only in theaters

Oliver & Company (1988)

A fed-up anthropomorphic animal that runs away and hooks up with a bad influence animal like himself? Back when Disney animation was at its low point, this amusing combo of standard animation and computer rendering feature film came out with some rather catchy tunes by Billy Joel. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough to make bank over at the House of Mouse.

Loosely based on Dickens Oliver Twist, an orphaned kitten named Oliver (voiced by Joey Lawrence) wanders the busy NYC streets and meets a laid-back Jack Russel Terrier named Dodger (Joel) who assists him in stealing food. Oliver follows Dodger and meets his owner, a shabbily dressed and goofy pickpocket named Fagin (Dom Deluise) and his friends: Tito the Chihuahua (Cheech Marin), Einstein the Great Dane (Richard Mulligan), Rita the Afghan (Sheryl Lee Ralph), and Francis the English bulldog (Roscoe Lee Browne).

Fagin explains that he is running out of time to repay the money he borrowed from ruthless loan shark, Sykes (Robert Loggia). Sykes told Fagin it must be paid in three days, or else! Sykes’ two Dobermans, Roscoe and DeSoto attack Oliver, but he is defended by Fagin’s dogs. The next day, Oliver hits the streets with his new gang to sell some shoddy goods and perhaps steal money, but he’s “caught” and taken home by a limo passenger, little Jenny Foxworth (Natalie Gregory) and her butler, Winston. After she adopts Oliver out of loneliness, Georgette (Bette Midler), her pompous and pampered poodle, is enraged and jealous of his presence and wants him removed from the household.

Dodger and the others manage to steal Oliver back him from the Foxworth family, but he doesn’t want to leave, much to Dodger’s shock, who feels that he is being ungrateful. However, Fagin concocts a plan to ransom Oliver by sending Jenny a ransom note and proudly tells Sykes of his plan. But when Jenny meets up with Fagin, he is surprised that the “very rich pet owner” is only a little girl. His conscience gets the better of him, and he returns Oliver freely. Just then, Sykes comes out of the shadows and kidnaps Jenny, intending to ransom her and declaring Fagin’s debt paid.

This act of cruelty rallies all the pets to give chase after Sykes and his Dobermans into the NYC subway tunnels to save Jenny and put an end to Sykes. Watch out for the train track’s ‘third rail’, it’s a killer! Naturally, there’s the requisite happy ending with all the pets getting a proper home with Jenny’s rich family and not ending up on the menu of some Korean BBQ somewhere.

Okay, so the screenplay by Tim Disney, James Mangold, and Jim Cox wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. . . it was Dickens. . .and that was part of the problem. With an instantly recognizable plot, the ‘dog buddy’ movie had no pizzazz to it and fizzled at the box office, despite the mighty Disney promotional machine at the helm. The soundtrack was actually better, featuring music by Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, Bette Midler, and Ruth Pointer (of the Pointer Sisters).

As far as the animation goes, this was a time of experimentation with the animation dept who were dabbling in computer animation with their The Great Mouse Detective and The Black Cauldron, but it wouldn’t be until 1995 when Pixar perfected it with Toy Story, so in 1988 rendering was crude at best. It’s not the best Disney animation, but at least the voice-over work is on-point. It was the following year, 1989, they got their heads together and started whipping out the amazing “classics” like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King.

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