A Peter Rabbit film is not the most obvious flashpoint for controversy – but a scene appearing to make light of food allergies has got some parents up in arms.
The big screen outing of the mischievous bunny, who first appeared in a series of beloved children’s novels by Beatrix Potter, appeared in US cinemas this weekend.
The story pits Peter against villainous farmer Tom McGregor, whose weakness is revealed to be an allergy to blackberries.
During a climactic scene, Peter – voiced by James Corden – and sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail pelt their foe with the fruit, causing him to have an allergic reaction when he swallows a blackberry.
A breathless Tom is forced to stab himself in the leg with an Epi-Pen to prevent anaphylactic shock, a moment one US critic described as “uncomfortable”.
Groups representing allergy sufferers and their families responded with indignation. Support groups Kids With Food Allergies highlighted the scene in a Facebook post, warning that “portraying anaphylaxis as a joke can cause some people to have a cavalier attitude about food allergies which can put kids with food allergies at risk”.
Within hours, a #BoycottPeterRabbit hashtag was circulating on social media, calling on parents to give the comedy a miss:
If you're thinking of taking your kids to see this "children's movie," please reconsider. Why are kids with deadly food allergies a punch line? What were they thinking? #PeterRabbitMovie #boycottPeterRabbit https://t.co/2i21emYddj
— Karen Costa (@karenraycosta) February 10, 2018
@SonyPictures What a disgrace – teaching children it's okay to bully and harass others with food allergies. You obviously have no staff with children who could DIE from food allergies. #attemptedmurder #foodallergies #boycottpeterrabbit
— Allison Wells (@OrangeAlli) February 10, 2018
As a mother of a toddler allergic to several foods, I am disgusted that Sony would make a joke out of flicking an allergen at a food allergic individual. Doing so is felony aggravated assault! What kind of message does that scene send to kids?! #boycottpeterrabbit
— hydrogirl71 (@hydrogirl71) February 10, 2018
Would you laugh at a person with diabetes force fed sugar? No. But that's exactly what you're doing in your movie: continuing to marginalize people with #foodallergies.
So throw an allergen at someone? I%u2019m coming for you.#BoycottPeterRabbit
— Jamie @jamiefid) February 10, 2018
In a statement issued yesterday, distributor Sony Pictures said that it was wrong to “make light” of allergies, although the intent had been “slapstick” and “cartoonish”.
“We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologise,” the studio said.
The allergy backlash is not the only problem the film has encountered so far. The trailer met with criticism that the big screen take on Potter’s quaint Edwardian storybooks was jarringly modern.
“Beatrix Potter’s gentle rabbit has been turned into a house-trashing, cocky jerk,” wrote The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage, labelling the effort “blisteringly inept”.