Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (3 stars)

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway

James Corden returns as the voice of the mischief-maker in this somewhat improved sequel

This spirited sequel from returning writer-director Will Gluck marginally improves on the successful but quite irritating 2018 original, which got a lot of knickers in a twist with what was seen as an unforgivably modern and obnoxious take on the beloved world of Beatrix Potter. Rose Byrne's Bea and Domhnall Gleeson's reformed Peter Rabbit antagonist Thomas are back at the heart of the live action, tangling with no less than David Oyelowo this time, with James Corden once again a 'polarising' presence (to use the film's own term) as the voice of mischief-maker Peter.

The relentlessly meta plot sees painter Bea launching her first Peter Rabbit storybook, based on the antics of Peter and his clan, who she cares for like family. It's quickly picked up by a prestigious publishing house, run by Oyelowo's smarmy Nigel Basil-Jones, who starts to make crude changes to boost the title's commercial appeal. When Peter sees his literary alter-ego rebranded as a bad-boy, he starts to question who he is and falls in with Lennie James's city thief Barnabas, an older bunny who claims to have been a friend of Peter's late father.

The starry voice cast (which includes returnees Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki and new recruit Hayley Atwell) don't add much – save from Sia, returning as Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, who is instead really rather peculiar. Corden brings too little nuance to his own delivery, turning in some very bland vocals. In an attempt to critic-proof itself, the film expends a lot of energy acknowledging how grating some people find the actor, by talking about how annoying Peter's voice is, but it's a joke that wears thin quickly and is more likely to inflame the situation. If Byrne is wasted in a fairly insipid role, Gleeson gets stuck into some fun pratfalls and is quite suited to the physical comedy.

With its combination of self-awareness and shamelessly anarchic action it strikes a pretty solid balance between appealing to adults and kids, and it has no shortage of ideas, some of which work well – for example, the farmers' market heist, Peter briefly being adopted as a pet and showered with unwelcome attention. The film finds room for a host of Potter's creations, mainly extremely fleetingly, and the animation and the way it is blended with the live action is very impressive, making for an appealing display of tangibly furry critters.

As it endlessly pimps the concept, it critiques the commercial need to endlessly pimp such concepts, with swipes at the cynical publishers. It's a strategy which has its moments, even if the film does risk disappearing up its own rabbit hole.

Available to watch in cinemas now.

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • Australia / UK / US
  • 1h 33min
  • U
  • Directed by: Will Gluck
  • Cast: Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki, Margot Robbie, James Corden
  • UK release: 17 May 2021

Follow-up to the successful 2018 film starring James Corden as the mischievous bunny.