Let me preface this by saying my family loves Peter Rabbit.
The books, the cartoons, the little stuffed plushes. He is mischievous, quirky, and loves a garden as much as we do. The antics of that little bunny are delightful and engaging. When I saw that a Peter Rabbit movie was set to hit the big screen, I penned the release date on my calendar. Then I learned that James Corden was voicing Peter Rabbit, and I was beyond all in. My hopes for the soundtrack skyrocketed. The man has delightful taste in music. I mean, who doesn’t love Carpool Karaoke and his epic rap battles? This film was sure to be a perfect fit for a fun-filled family night.
Then the film previewed, and I saw the allergy alert: This film contains allergy violence. My heart sank. What was the violence? Does the attack hold any awareness value? I mean, how bad could it be? It is Peter Rabbit, after all! I did my research, and I got my answer. It is irredeemably bad. Could we still safely see the film? The answer for us, sadly, was “no.” And I think it is downright dangerous for non-allergy families to see it, too. I am such a hard pass on this film that I seriously debated writing this article at all. Ultimately, I decided I would be remiss to stay silent. Be careful for brutal spoilers after this paragraph.
If you haven’t heard (here comes the giant spoiler alert), they turn Peter Rabbit into an attempted premeditated murderer.
Nope, that’s not an over-estimation. He plans to attack the lead protagonist of the movie by forcing him to ingest his food allergen. That’s his solution to a problem person in his life. Kill him by exploiting his food allergy. Yes, that’s awful. No it’s not funny in the slightest. This is not slapstick comedy; it is cruelty.
It is a cruelty that allergy families experience routinely. The reality is children with life-threatening food allergies are often bullied because they have an allergy. No Appetite for Bullying researched a sample of 1,000 food-allergy families with children ranging from elementary to high-school age. Of those sampled, 82 percent reported instances of their children being bullied due to their allergy. That bullying ranged in severity from taunting to intentional exposure to a life-threatening allergen.
When people hear the word “bully,” I think they picture someone like Biff from the Back to the Future series. Someone who is just mean for meanness sake. They don’t picture the child looking for a giant laugh in his school cafeteria. A child who has seen dozens of allergy exposures on TV shows and movies that always get the laugh, and routinely characterize the individual with the food allergy as someone who is weak and deserving of abuse. This pervasive misrepresentation creates grave misunderstanding about the real-life dangers of food allergies.
As horrible as Peter Rabbit being rebranded as a murderer at large in this film is, it is not the worst part of the movie. By far, the deadliest thing about this film is how the allergy itself is presented. It is a common problem that Hollywood films downplay allergic reactions. They are presented as comical and embarrassing for the allergy patient. It is shown as a nuisance at worst, something that is easily managed with a jab of an EpiPen or a sip of Benadryl.
News flash: Life-threatening allergic reactions are not only hives and visibly swelling lips.
Other signs of deadly allergic reactions are fatigue, an odd taste in the mouth, chest pain, loss of consciousness, turning blue, stomach pain, or a dry cough, just to name a few. Nothing about this is comical; 40 percent of children who have food allergies have experienced a life-threatening reaction. Every three minutes, a child goes to the emergency room with a life-threatening food allergy reaction — that is 210,000 hospital visits a year. Epinephrine, the drug inside EpiPens, is a time-sensitive drug and is most effective when administered quickly. At times, it does not abate symptoms quickly enough and additional doses are required. And sometimes, despite administration of epinephrine, patients still die from allergy exposure. Antihistamines like Benadryl are not effective during severe allergic reactions.
When children’s movies depict a situation indicating it’s okay to laugh at people with food allergies, they fail all of our children. It is not just mean; it is dangerous. Children need to understand that food allergies are not a reason to treat someone as less than or laugh at them. When movies show no consequence for cruelty targeting people’s medical conditions, they fail all of our children again. It sets a false confidence level for impressionable children that they can be funny and everything will be okay. The reality is very different… for every child.
Stacy, thanks for writing this article. I have a young child with a food allergy, and was so disheartened to hear about the anaphylaxis scene in this movie. Parents of allergy kids live in fear that even one person might not take the food allergy seriously and we’ll never see our child again. This just sets us back so far. Why is making fun of a deadly condition acceptable in a children’s movie? Would we think it was ok if it was diabetes, and Mr. McGregor was forced to take an insulin shot to avoid diabetic shock? Would that have made it into the movie? I think not. Because people know diabetes is real. Conversely, they think food allergies is a bunch of helicopter moms coddling their kids and making a fuss about a tummy ache. I’m so mad I could spit. I plan on sharing your article with those I can. Hopefully it will mitigate some of the damage done by this movie. Thank you again.
Thank you so much, Melissa. I am so hopeful that we can bring awareness to what real anaphylaxis and it’s repercussions look like. <3
Unfortunately Diabetes IS made fun of all the time in movies, tv shows and memes all over. It’s never acceptable to use a disease or medical condition as the butt of a joke. I agree, it needs to stop and we have chosen to not see this movie.
I completely agree. While my child doesn’t have food allergies she DOES have Type 1 Diabetes which is continuously the butt of jokes in movies, tv shows and memes all over the internet. When we complain we’re told “it’s just a joke” or to toughen up.
In solidarity with the food allergy families we are refusing to see this movie. Also Beatrix Potter would HATE what they have done to her beloved characters.
Thank you so much! We have a few little friends that have also been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and it is amazing the education gaps that exist around that diagnosis as well. I have learned so much over the last few years thanks to their advocacy. Food bullying or Food shaming is never okay. Thank you for advocating for our food allergy babies while you continue to advocate for your little with Type 1 Diabetes. <3 #InThisFoodFightTogether
I had not heard about the food allergy scene and I did go see the movie. I was honestly in shock at how casually they treated the food allergy. At first, when the man said he was allergic, I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not and I even thought to myself – that’s weird that they are having him say he is allergic to something. Saying it so casually. I really felt like whole issue was handled inappropriately and I am glad you are writing about it. My family has no food allergies, but the thought of it is so scary.
Thank you so much. <3
If I may, while we don’t have any food allergies (that we are aware of), I knew the scene would cause a reaction. I appreciate the dislike from those that are affected by this. But as far as getting upset that Peter was a stone cold killer, plotting the death of Mr. McGregor and his nephew, in his defense, they killed his parents. And ate him. It’s in the original story. The same one that I read to my daughter (who knows it by heart almost). Why not trap and release? The nephew wanted to blow them up. Peter was just beating him at his own game.
I liked the movie, it was cute. Family sticks together and all that mess.
Thanks for taking the time to read the article and for sharing your honest thoughts about the violence in Peter Rabbit the books and film. I don’t think you are reading the initially run books, if you are saying that Peter Rabbit exploits the farmers allergen and uses an epi-pen in the Beatrix Potter classics. That is simply not true. It is a liberty that Sony took and has apologized to audiences; acknowledging their ham-fisted and reckless choice in attempting to show the “Hatfield/McCoy Relationship” Peter Rabbit has with the farmer. They treated allergies as a cheap laugh. To your point, Peter Rabbit is an arrogant, gluttonous character in both the films and the books. But the liberties that this film took with the character communicated exactly what you did above. Essentially, you are justifying Peter Rabbits choice to murder the farmers nephew because of the violence he has experienced while trying to steal from the farmer. I mean you are saying that’s okay “because families stick together and all that mess”? I mean sure Peter Rabbit is trespassing, stealing, and lying about what his doing through out the film but he is absolved and the farmer is the unreasonable villain. So they choose to give the farmer an allergy because they believe it makes him an easy, laughable target. I mean families can stick together without needing to murder people by exploiting their allergies. Just sayin. From my perspective this doesn’t just impact families with food allergies. So many children walk away hand in hand with their parents laughing all the way at a gross misrepresentation of who has allergies and without knowing that exploiting them is no joke. The way we choose to stick together impacts us all.