A funny, timeless story that captures children’s imaginations
“When I was a kid, my dad read me the Peter Rabbit books, so I always had an emotional tie to him – and when I had kids, I read the books to them,” says Will Gluck, the co-writer/director of the famous bunny’s first big screen adventure, Peter Rabbit.
“The thing I love most is that Peter is a little mischief-maker. He’s depicted in a beautiful old-fashioned style, but the Trojan horse is that Peter Rabbit is a little son-of-a-gun. I thought it was a great opportunity to take that little nugget, what Beatrix Potter gave Peter, expand that personality trait and make it our own contemporary story.”
And who better to give Peter his voice than James Corden, a mischief-maker in his own right, who puts aside the wit and gets emotional when it comes to playing the impish rogue in a little blue coat who wreaks havoc in Mr. Thomas McGregor’s vegetable garden. “It’s a wonderful story that owes everything to Beatrix Potter,” he says. “I felt incredibly honored that Will thought my voice could lend itself to this adored rabbit. I met a kid who was so excited – he said, ‘You’re going to be Peter Rabbit,’ and I said, ‘No, Peter Rabbit is Peter Rabbit, he just needed a voice for this film.”
In the film, Peter’s war with Old Mr. McGregor, keeper of the vegetable garden, takes a turn when the old man kicks the bucket (a victory Peter is all too happy to claim for himself). But when his great-nephew, Mr. Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson), inherits the place, Peter realizes that the battle for control of the vegetable garden – and the heart of their next-door neighbor, Bea (Rose Byrne) – has only just begun. To help, Peter is enlisting his family and friends – sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, cousin Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and other characters author and illustrator Beatrix Potter created in her original tales.
And because Peter Rabbit is so beloved, especially throughout the British Commonwealth, Gluck was able to attract an all-star cast to bring these famous characters to life, including Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, and Daisy Ridley as the triplets, Grammy winner Sia as Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and David Wenham as Johnny Town-Mouse.
In addition, the live-action cast did double duty behind the microphone, as Domhnall Gleeson plays the frog Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Rose Byrne voiced Jemima Puddle-Duck, and Sam Neill – on camera as Old Mr. McGregor – gives voice to Tommy Brock, the badger.
For the animation, Gluck and fellow producer Zareh Nalbandian partnered with Nalbandian’s Animation and VFX studio Animal Logic, who’s previous credits include The LEGO® Movie, Happy Feet, and other films, for a film that would combine animation with live action. “We wanted to use as many of the Beatrix Potter characters as possible to honor what she created,” continues Gluck. “We’re all familiar with the beautiful watercolor paintings – if they were to come to life in the real world, we hope this is what they would look like.”
Will Gluck (Director / co-writer / producer) is a filmmaker with a uniquely authentic voice and an aim to create projects that reflect popular culture and captivate audiences. Gluck has made a name for himself as a great comedic filmmaker who brings heart and a down-to-earth quality to all his endeavors.
Gluck is currently prepping to direct and produce the dark comedy Jackpot for Global Road and the heist romantic comedy drama Steal Away for Columbia Pictures.
Gluck most recently released the modern-day reimagining of Annie, which he directed and co-wrote for Columbia Pictures. In addition to numerous projects in development for both network and cable television, including a series based on Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison, Gluck and Olive Bridge are making the Topher Grace-fronted action comedy series “Treasure Squad” at Amazon, the animated series “Sticks” for Freeform; a television movie “Angry Angel” for Freeform; and the musical docudrama “Encore” for ABC. Olive Bridge produced the animated “Moonbeam City” for Comedy Central, and “The McCarthys,” a family sitcom, for CBS. In 2013, Gluck co-created and directed the critically acclaimed “The Michael J. Fox Show” for NBC and “The Loop” for Fox.
Gluck released Friends with Benefits in the summer of 2011. His second feature, Easy A, released in September 2010, was a massive critical and financial success, winning Best Comedy Movie at the Critics Choice Awards. Gluck made his feature directorial debut with 2009’s darkly funny FIRED UP. In addition to his directing credits, Gluck produced About Last Night for Screen Gems in 2014.
Rob Lieber (Co-Writer / Executive Producer) is a writer and producer whose credits include Disney’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and ABC’s “The Goldbergs.” Currently, he is working on film projects with Ron Howard, Imagine Entertainment and Animal Logic Entertainment, as well as Ben Stiller and Red Hour Productions. Additionally, Lieber is writing Goosebumps 2 for Sony. He is also executive producing the upcoming independent feature Time Freak, directed by Andrew Bowler, starring Asa Butterfield and Sophie Turner.
The inspiration was Potter’s original illustrations.
“Will and I went to see the original pictures at the Beatrix Potter archives in London. She literally painted them at the size that they are in the books,” Nalbandian explains. “The challenge was to start with such small works and to maintain the integrity of the characters that are so beloved in the books, while we bring Peter into the 21st Century. It was a huge opportunity for us to do something that’s never been seen before.”
One way of maintaining the integrity of the original paintings was to refer to the illustrations whenever possible. “Our goal was to make the rabbits and the other animal characters look like real animals but with clothes and expressions that the books suggest,” says Gluck.
The look of the film was only one part of maintaining the integrity of the characters – just as important was ensuring that Peter behaved as Peter – a character who takes risks and enjoys a good prank, but one whose good heart shines through.
“Peter is told not to go into McGregor’s garden because his father was put into a pie for going into the garden. What does he do? He goes into the garden. That’s who Peter is – there’s nothing more you can tell someone who’s like that,” Gluck explains. “He has that impishness, but also a bold confidence and a self-delusion that he’s always right, when he’s actually often wrong. He’s never in doubt, though, so he keeps charging forward until he realizes he’s gone too far.”
But even as Peter faces the music because of his daring bullheadedness, his true character emerges. “He comes to realize that he has to take care of his cousin and his three sisters, and although he wouldn’t admit it to himself, he realizes that there might be shades to Thomas McGregor,” Gluck continues. “Peter is adolescent who starts to appreciate that things aren’t always black and white.”
Protecting these elements of Peter’s character was extremely important to the filmmakers; every step of the way, they worked closely with the guardians of the Beatrix Potter legacy, the publishers at Frederick Warne & Co., Ltd., a division of Penguin Random House, which has published Beatrix Potter’s Original Peter Rabbit Books™ since 1902.
“We’re hugely excited about this new adventure for Peter Rabbit and the opportunity to bring him to a whole new generation of fans via the big screen.” says Susan Bolsover, director of licensing and consumer products for Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd, part of Penguin Random House. “We were thrilled that Will Gluck was keen to capture the essence of Beatrix Potter’s books and particularly the mischievous and loveable nature of Peter Rabbit, which is hugely important.”
Hugely important, because through Peter’s mischief (and their own), children learn how far they can push their boundaries – and how to face any consequences with grace. “Although there’s a moral to the story, I don’t feel children feel they’re being preached to in that moral,” she says. “I think that’s why it particularly works. And who doesn’t love a bit of mischief?”
Bolsover thinks that the PETER RABBIT™ movie will connect with 2018 audiences in a similar way that the book did for readers in 1902 because those themes of adventure and mischief are timeless. “I think Beatrix Potter was able to reach so many people with The Tale of Peter Rabbit because it’s a funny, timeless story that captures children’s imaginations,” she adds. “Beatrix understood the importance of talking to children on their own level and created a story, set in the natural world that all children would recognize with themes that would be universally appealing.”
Another way that the filmmakers honored the Potter legacy was by filming scenes in England’s Lake District, a part of the English countryside where Potter lived and became a huge influence on her work; after her death in 1943, Potter bequeathed most of her estate – her farms, her land, her artwork, her sheep – to the National Trust, which has been looking after that legacy for more than 70 years.
John Moffat, General Manager for the National Trust’s Beatrix Potter places, notes, “Beatrix Potter left the National Trust a large legacy and caring for her home, Hill Top, many original artworks and farms and land are a huge part of our role as a conservation charity in the Lake District. She was an amazing woman and we’re keen to share her work and tales with families everywhere. We’re all very excited about the movie, and hope that the film will bring new audiences into contact with Beatrix and inspire them to make a visit to the places in the Lakes that inspired her to write her classic tales.”
“It was incredibly important to go to the Lake District,” says Gluck. “That’s where the movie is set; it’s where Beatrix Potter lived, where she wrote her stories and painted her pictures. We tried to create a world that looks exactly like it did in all her books; we were inspired to take every little moment, everything she ever wrote or painted, and construct our world around that.”
Design and Animation Process
“I wanted the audiences to forget this was an animated film,” says Will Gluck of his approach to the direction. “Hopefully, after the first few minutes of getting acclimated to the fact that animals are talking and wearing clothes, it just feels real to the audience.”
The animation was overseen by producer Zareh Nalbandian and his company Animal Logic, which previously produced the animated hits The Lego Movie (and its sequel, The Lego Batman Movie) and Happy Feet. “For Will, all the animated characters in PETER RABBIT™ exist just like the characters played by Rose and Domhnall,” he says. “As we approached the animation, we had the same kinds of questions for him that the live-action actors might ask. ‘How do you want Benjamin Bunny to feel? How do you want him to emote?’ It’s all about performance. We consider our characters as real characters, so our dialogue with Will was on that level. For our animators, that was fantastic because Will didn’t put restrictions on anything, but it was also immensely challenging. This was probably the most complex film that we’ve made at Animal Logic.”
The film features not just rabbits but pigs, badgers, sparrows, and more, each with different skin or fur or feathers, some clad in clothing that gets dirty, torn and wet. Costume designer Lizzy Gardiner not only oversaw the costuming of the live-action cast – she was also brought in early in the design phase to help determine what the animated animals would wear. “It was a challenge,” says Gardiner, “because we were trying to stay true to Beatrix Potter’s vision while also modernizing what she had done. As we got further into it, we realized that every single choice she made, she made for a good reason.”
The production ran parallel animation and live action units during principal photography, with editors cutting scenes while the film was shooting, and storyboard artists drawing over cut scenes to represent where the animals might be.
With that, Gluck could get a sense of the film he had shot and the possibilities for animation. And with that, he discovered the great blessing and curse of animation: you can always change it. “You don’t have that in live-action – you shoot the scene, and the scene’s over. In animation, anyone can say, ‘Here’s an idea that could improve the scene.’ And while the animators were sleeping, I was rewriting,” he says – noting that the animators were ready for it. “There were over 400 people working on Peter Rabbit. They were all studying their small portion of the film and coming up with the most wonderful ideas. The ‘what-ifs’ were the fun part of this movie.”