Peter Rabbit may seem like a harmless children’s movie full of CGI creatures making pop culture jokes, but some audiences are hopping mad over one specific scene. In the scene in question, Peter Rabbit and his furry friends exploit a food allergy of their human nemesis, Mr. McGregor.
When Sony set about adapting Beatrix Potter’s classic children’s book Peter Rabbit into a big CGI-laden feature, I doubt they expected to run into any controversy. Yet controversy came calling when some audiences found fault in the way the film handles a character’s food allergy. In the film, Domhnall Gleeson’s character Mr. McGregor is allergic to blackberries. When Mr. McGregor goes to war with Peter Rabbit and his woodland friends over his prized garden, Peter and company exploit that allergy by shooting a blackberry from a slingshot directly into Mr. McGregor’s mouth. McGregor then injects himself with an EpiPen and goes into anaphylaxis.
Granted, this is a bit twisted for a children’s film, and some parents of children with food allergies took severe umbrage with the scene. The New York Times has a quote from Kenneth Mendez, the president and chief executive of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, saying: “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.”
Sony was quick to issue an apology, stating, 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.”
There’s a knee-jerk part of me that wants to to shrug this whole thing off as silly. But I do understand that this scenario may be detrimental to individuals (particularly children) who suffer from severe food allergies. There’s an argument to be made that this sort of on screen behavior may be misinterpreted by younger audiences, who could, in theory, exploit it in a real-world situation.
Yes, I’m About to Compare Peter Rabbit to a Scorsese Movie
But if we are to make such a statement, we’re treading on unsteady ground. It is not a film’s job – at least, a fictional film about talking animals – to parent its audience. That’s a responsibility that falls solely on parents. There’s also a continuing misconception in regards to films that depiction = endorsement. I never thought I’d be comparing Peter Rabbit to The Wolf of Wall Street, but here we are! When Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street hit theaters in 2013, the film’s off-the-wall depictions of excess, drug use and general debauchery were heavily criticized. Some argued that Scorsese was glorifying this behavior. But Wolf of Wall Street was doing no such thing, and anyone paying attention to the film can pick up on this.
Just because a film presents a scenario, it doesn’t mean the filmmakers are condoning it. This is a lesson I wish more audiences, young and old, would come to understand. As far as Peter Rabbit is concerned, yes, Peter’s action triggering McGregor’s food allergy is serious, but the event happens before Peter, as a character, learns his general lesson. In other words, Peter’s arc in the film turns him into a better person (er, rabbit), and perhaps having this less-than-desirable action happen early in the film is a way to show how the character has grown by the time the credits roll. Could the makers of Peter Rabbit have handled this scenario better? Probably. But I think there’s also a slight chance people are interpreting this moment far more seriously than is actually warranted.
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