Beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter would never have imaged her characters could cause such controversy.
While the mischievous Peter Rabbit has delighted families since 1902, it wasn’t until last month that the bunny reached big screen success. Of course, Potter’s classic tale had to be updated a bit for modern audiences. James Corden, who is widely adored in his own right, voices the titular cottontail who declares battle on the younger Mr. McGregor. In many ways, it’s a traditional animal versus human story — but with CGI instead of charming illustrations.
The film’s opening weekend brought in $25 million, so it’s clear that many families are responding positively to the rabbit’s revamp. However, there is one scene in particular that’s gotten some parents up in arms.
After Mr. McGregor (the nephew of the recently deceased original Mr. McGregor) decides to wage an all-out war on Peter Rabbit and friends, the animals decide to fight dirty. You see, Mr. McGregor has a severe allergy to blackberries (which are readily available to the furry creatures). Knowing exactly what will happen, the animals slingshot a blackberry right into McGregor’s mouth, who then goes into anaphylaxis and injects himself with his EpiPen.
That part of the film angered both parents and organizations alike. Approximately 4% of adults and 4% of kids under the age 18 have food allergies, and it’s a serious issue for many families. Even those who hadn’t seen the film were quick to respond in condemnation.
Kenneth Mendez, the president and chief executive of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, said of the scene: “Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger.”
Some naysayers may feel this is an overreaction, but it’s no laughing matter for families who must safeguard their children against severe allergic reactions. Although 44% to 65% of ER episodes can be handled at urgent care locations, major allergic reactions are often life and death. With so many Americans upset by the scene, Sony Pictures apologized for the lapse in judgement.
In a statement, Sony said in part: “Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of Peter Rabbit’s archnemesis, Mr. McGregor, being allergic to blackberries, even in a cartoonish, slapstick way…. We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.”
Ultimately, the incident may open a dialogue for gaining a better understanding of allergies and how they are no laughing matter in real life. But aside from the one questionable scene, the film may still delight many audiences. To be sure, the adaptation has lost some of the wit and enchantment of the original, replacing these elements instead with ample pop culture references and some low-brow humor. But while the film has its faults, the animation-live action hybrid still manages to be a fun little film for the whole family.