If only James Corden could somehow magically have Beatrix Potter’s ghost appear as a guest on “The Late Late Show.” The British cut-up could ask his nature-loving countrywoman just what she thought of his brightly of-the-moment voice work in “Peter Rabbit.” He could get her opinion on the new movie’s where’re-my-pants quips and toilet jokes and pyrotechnics. Heck, maybe he could even bring her along for a round of “Carpool Karaoke” set to the soundtrack’s jumble of li’l-gangsta nonsense and Portugal. The Man.
But go figure: Even though this thoroughly contemporary adaptation frequently tramples the gentle whimsy of Potter’s creation like so many bunnies overrunning a vegetable garden, it’s also irresistibly entertaining. Corden manages to keep his performance from playing like a retread of Russell Brand’s in “Hop,” as trailers seemingly threatened. Live-action costar Domhnall Gleeson’s update of Peter’s nemesis, Mr. McGregor, is prickly fun, and a better spot for the “Last Jedi” actor’s broad peevishness than some imperial stronghold. And writer-director Will Gluck (“Annie,” 2014) does make room for some heart and even some quaintness, pressing pause at a couple of points on the movie’s impeccably digitized rabbits to treat the audience to Potter-styled imagery.
Mischief-loving Peter takes on a more traditional McGregor to start, with Sam Neill amusingly unrecognizable as a bushy-bearded, beet-faced Scottish crank who’s got an unhealthy hankering for rabbit pie. It’s hard to imagine the old country place ever being a safe zone for Peter and his sibs (Margot Robbie and Daisy Ridley, among them, although good luck keeping them straight). The situation doesn’t get any better when the property lands in the care of Thomas (Gleeson), an absurdly prim Harrods manager — love the verisimilitude! — who only reluctantly relocates from London and definitely isn’t abiding any wildlife.
What follows is predictably escalating mayhem tempered with some worthwhile morals for the kids about shenanigans taken too far. Rose Byrne is a sunny presence as Bea, Thomas’s animal-loving tenant and Potter’s fictionalized stand-in, who inevitably winds up caught in the middle of all the metaphorical rabbit punches. If the freneticism gets repetitious, the target audience won’t mind, at least not judging by a preview crowd’s delirious reaction to a recurring electrified-doorknob gag. And sly jokes about roosters, deer, and, yes, the French should put grown-ups in a tolerant mood as well. If your family can give, say, “Paddington 2” some tonal latitude, they can roll with this one, too.
Directed by Will Gluck. Written by Rob Lieber and Gluck, based on the stories by Beatrix Potter. Starring James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 93 min. PG (rude humor, action).Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.