MOVIE BUFF-ET: Controversial ‘Peter Rabbit’ a sensitive issue for some parents

Columbia Pictures

If you pay much attention to movie news, then you have already heard about the controversy stemming from director Will Gluck’s comedy “Peter Rabbit,” which depicts CGI-animated rabbits slingshotting blackberries at a human character who suffers from a severe allergy to the fruit.

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Kenneth Mendez, the president and C.E.O of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America issued a statement to the media and also released it on social media criticizing the movie of insensitivity toward those who suffer from life-threatening food allergies. Sony, the studio that produced the film that is very loosely based on Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit stories, issued an apology.

After watching the movie, I believe the scene can certainly be taken as insensitive. The character Tom (Domhnall Gleason) swallows the blackberries and suffers an anaphylactic episode. He injects medicine from an EpiPen to halt the anaphylactic attack before passing out.

Anyone who has a food allergy knows how distressing if not deadly they can be. The self-aware CGI rabbits break the fourth wall in the movie and question to the camera whether they went too far with their actions.

The scene bothered me a little. I had food allergies through my teens that induced an asthmatic-type reaction. Thank goodness for Benadryl. However, my concern was fleeting just as it was earlier in the movie when another character, the elderly Mr. McGregor (Sam Neil), drops dead while tending to his garden.

As a fat, old guy, I thought that scene was a bit insensitive, too.

It’s pretty insensitive when Bambi’s momma dies in the Disney classic, or when Travis has to put down a rabid Old Yeller in the climax of the film that bares the heroic dog’s name.

Insensitive actions are depicted in films because insensitive actions happen in life. Insensitive jokes are made in movies and in real life. The world simply isn’t a sensitive place.

Mendez’ letter of criticism was appropriate as was Sony’s apology. Parents should know what they are introducing to their children to when they take them to the movies.

However, I hope the situation doesn’t make movie studios even more reactionary than they already are. All the sting shouldn’t be taken out entertainment, not even children’s entertainment.

As for the movie itself, I thought it was an average movie, but I enjoyed it. Its high concept is a cross between “Babe” and “Home Alone.”

Set in a live-action, rural English hamlet and featuring somewhat realistically animated yet still anthropomorphic animals, the film has all the trappings of the old Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons as well as violently funny gags that made live-action shorts like “The Three Stooges” and “The Little Rascals” popular fare from the 1930s-70s. It’s a slapstick walk down memory lane for a viewer like me who cut his teeth on this type of entertainment as a child.

I enjoyed the voice work of James Corden as Peter, whose attitude seemed to be a heightened version of his on-camera personality on “The Late, Late Show.”

As Bea, a painter who creates tales about the woodland creatures who live in the grove around her home, Rose Byrne is appropriately sunny and charming. I don’t for a second believe she would fall for a character like Tom, but every story needs an antagonist and Gleason capably fills the bill.

Does the movie contain questionable humor for a child?

Possibly, but parents can decide that for themselves, and thanks to Mendez’ letter, they are more capable of doing that now.

(PG) 1 hr. 34 min.
Grade: B-

The Classic Corner

The Philadelphia Story

The Malco Razorback Theater in Fayetteville is hosting two special showings of the classic, screwball comedy “The Philadelphia Story” at 2 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday.

“The Philadelphia Story” is a pure delight from 1940 when Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart were at or nearly at the height of their prowess. Director George Cukor pits Hepburn and Grant against each other as a divorced couple, who just can’t seem to get out of each other’s way and don’t really want to.

The crux of the movie is whether Grant is on hand to torture his ex-wife before her wedding or win her back?

In his Oscar-winning role, Stewart plays a tabloid journalist who falls hard for socialite Hepburn while on assignment covering her impending nuptials.
The drunken scene between Hepburn and Stewart is the best in the movie, and it somewhat foreshadows Stewart’s “lasso the moon” scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Donna Reed. It’s a difficult task to upstage Grant, but to my mind Stewart did in this wonderful movie. The chemistry between Stewart and Hepburn crackles.

The shrewish role fit Hepburn’s personae perfectly, although she gives as good as she takes in the film where she is determined not to just settle as so many would have her do and live the life she wants.

Grant, of course, is his suave self in the movie, but he is somewhat the straight man’s in the movie with Hepburn and Stewart tackling showier roles. However, he gets the last laugh as the chess board he set up plays out exactly like he wants.