With a movie aimed at children like Peter Rabbit, it’s vitally important that the film sends its young audience the right message. The worst thing it can do is give children some kind of dangerous idea by promoting unsafe or unkind behavior.
Yet that’s exactly what parents whose children have food allergies are accusing Peter Rabbit of doing. After calls to boycott the film spread on social media, the studio has now issued an official apology for a key scene.
Here’s what’s going on with the new Peter Rabbit and why parents are so upset with it.
Peter Rabbit is a PG-rated film based on the Beatrix Potter character
The new movie Peter Rabbit is an adaptation of the popular Beatrix Potter children’s stories. In it, the titular character is a mischievous rabbit who tries to sneak into the garden of farmer Mr. McGregor and ends up in an escalating war with him. The MPAA gave it a rating of PG for “some rude humor and action.”
The film makes use of Looney Tunes-style slapstick comedy as Peter and Mr. McGregor feud; think Tom and Jerry, except with a mix of live action and animation.
Next: The key scene that upset a lot of parents
There’s a scene where Peter shoots a blackberry into Mr. McGregor’ mouth
Peter Rabbit is filled with sequences in which Peter and his rabbit friends terrorize Mr. McGregor. For the most part, all of this is just cartoon fun.
But the scene that is getting parents so upset involves Peter pelting Mc. McGregor with food, including blackberries. This ends with a blackberry going into McGregor’s mouth.
That might sound perfectly innocent, but it’s more complicated than you might think.
Next: This is why the blackberry scene is so objectionable.
Mr. McGregor is allergic to blackberries and has to inject himself with epinephrine
So why is that blackberry scene generating so much controversy? Well, it comes down to the fact that Mr. McGregor is allergic to blackberries. That’s exactly why Peter chose blackberries to shoot at him: He knows Mr. McGregor has a food allergy.
Immediately after swallowing a blackberry, Mr. McGregor collapses and goes into anaphylactic shock. His face turns red, but he’s finally able to inject himself with epinephrine, at which point he’s OK.
Next: The reason parents are so angry about that scene
Parents feel the movie suggests it’s funny to bully someone with a food allergy
Many parents came away from this scene angry for two reasons. The first is that they feel the movie makes it seem like food allergy bullying is funny. It could, they argue, suggest to kids that it’s OK to make fun of people for their allergies because they’re not that serious.
Adult viewers can see this scene as a moment in the story in which our flawed protagonist has gone too far and must redeem himself, but this might be lost on kids. They’ll just leave with the impression that food allergies are something to laugh at and not a very serious thing that many people have to deal with.
“We encourage you to examine your portrayal of bullying in your films geared toward a young audience,” Kenneth Mendez, president of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, said in a letter to the filmmakers.
Next: Another important reason parents are upset about the scene
Parents also worry that kids will attempt to emulate the scene
Another fear is that kids will come away from the movie feeling encouraged to pick on someone they don’t like by throwing their allergens to at them, just as Peter Rabbit does in the movie.
Cartoon characters have been violent for decades. But while kids can’t emulate a scene where an anvil falls on Wile E. Coyote, they could very easily throw food at a kid who is allergic to it at lunch. In real life, this can have deadly consequences. For instance, in July 2017, a 13-year-old boy died when kids at school threw cheese, which he was allergic to, at him.
In addition, because Mr. McGregor is instantly fine after using his EpiPen, kids may also get the impression that there’s no real danger in exposing a kid to his allergen; in reality, being injected with an EpiPen is just the first step, and the person must then receive immediate medical attention. An EpiPen is hardly a magic, instant solution as depicted in the movies.
Next: How Sony has already responded to the controversy
Sony has issued an official apology
Peter Rabbit is distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, and the studio has already issued an apology for this scene. The apology comes on behalf of the movie’s director, writers, and producers, who say they wish they had been more aware of the seriousness of this issue and regret making light of it.
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.
It remains to be seen whether Sony will take any further action, such as removing the scene from Peter Rabbit‘s home video release or adding a warning to the start of the movie.
Next: Parents have taken this step as a response to the scene.
Parents are now boycotting the movie
Word about this scene in Peter Rabbit is beginning to spread. Now, many parents say they will not take their kids to see the movie, both because they don’t want to support the film and because they don’t want their kids exposed to the scene.
To give you a sense of how many parents were outraged, before Sony released their statement, a petition demanding that they apologize had garnered over 12,000 signatures. The hashtag #BoycottPeterRabbit has also been widely used on Twitter.
Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!