It was always going to be a tricky process bringing Peter Rabbit to the big screen for a modern audience.
Not only did the character make his debut over 115 years ago, but social media is always quick to attack a film that even slightly deviates from its source material, something that its co-writer and director Will Gluck was always going to have to do.
But rather than trying to modernize the beloved characters or stories, Gluck admitted to me over the phone that he instead tried to embrace the “timelessness” of Beatrix Potter’s work.
“Because instead of modernizing it I just wanted to try and bring it to life,” Gluck continued. “So that was our dictum. We always wanted to make sure that everything the animals did made sense. They weren’t just wacky for wacky’s sake. Same with Rose and Domhnall’s characters.”
“I know it sounds crazy but we just tried to ground every moment in our reality. Saying that out loud does sound silly because obviously our rabbits are wearing jackets. But after about 10 minutes you kind of forget that they are rabbits wearing jackets.”
Domhnall Gleeson confessed that the film’s use of “slapstick and big physical comedy is not the first thing you think of when it comes of Peter Rabbit.”
But also defended the film by insisting, “This is live action, and the books aren’t. I think the big thing was not just making kids happy, but really making them laugh. That was an amazing thing when I saw it, because I was still concerned. But to me, from my point of view, that makes it worth it. If other people have their issues with it then I understand. But we’ve achieved what we set out to.”
“Peter Rabbit” making such an impact wasn’t always so apparent, though. Gleeson even admits that his agent originally warned him, “We have to be careful. There’s a lot that could go wrong with a film like this.” But after being immensely impressed by the script the Irish actor quickly came to the conclusion of, “It would be stupid of me not to do it.”
To get the film perfectly balanced the writers, producers, and director worked closely alongside the Beatrix Potter estate, and did extensive research to “lay the groundwork.” “Beatrix Potter was always in our minds when we were making it,” admits Gluck.
But even the looming presence of Beatrix Potter and her immense popularity didn’t overly change Gluck’s approach. “I only know how to make movies one way. My way. With my humor or my tone. I didn’t approach this as a children’s movie or a family movie.”
“I was always thinking, ‘Would this exist in her world?’ But also we had the safety net of the Beatrix Potter estate, and the Penguin estate, and the Warren estate, who were stewards of her legacy. So it was just what felt right.”
“Beatrix Potter is a religion in the heritage markets in the UK and Australia. And a lot of other places, like Japan and Mexico. It is just ingrained in you. It’s something that you don’t have to think about. It’s very binary, whether things work or don’t work.”
It also helped that the “Peter Rabbit” cast were such huge fans, and Gluck admitted that they were integral in finding the right tone and humor.
“A lot of the stuff I drew inspiration from was James Corden and Daisy Ridley, and Margot Robbie and Elizabeth Debicki, who, like myself, all grew up on these books. All of us were figuring out what made sense. It was very fun being collaborative. With the animators in Australia, too, all of which just made sense.”
For Gleeson, though, there was just the one main goal with “Peter Rabbit.”
“It was a chance to make kids happy and to make kids laugh. I certainly hadn’t done that before. And the thought of doing that was a big thrill for me.”
The early reviews for “Peter Rabbit” suggest that Gleeson and the cast have achieved just that.
You’ll be able to judge for yourself when “Peter Rabbit” is released on February 9.