- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 6, 2007

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘Miss Potter’

Rating: PG for brief mild language.

Common Sense Media: On. For ages 10 and older.

*** (out of five stars)

Running time: 92 minutes

Common Sense review: Pleasant and unadventurous, “Miss Potter” offers a fictionalized life of famous “Peter Rabbit” creator Beatrix Potter. In an unusual life path for her time (the early 1900s), she pursues a career as a children’s book author and illustrator — her affection for her creations indicated on-screen by her interactions with their animated forms.

As ducks in bonnets and bunnies in brass buttons wiggle their tails at her or scamper about their pages, they represent Beatrix’s own feelings — most often mild defiance or frustration at her parents’ hopes that she’ll “settle down” by marrying a man within their class.

Beatrix (Renee Zellweger) first appears as a prim young woman eager to publish a small storybook filled with gentle watercolor illustrations — the book that will become “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” (the first of Beatrix’s 23 books).

Believing Beatrix’s book to be an unprofitable oddity, the stuffy brothers who run Frederick Warne & Co. assign the project to their youngest sibling, Norman (Ewan McGregor). He comes at it with an earnest, contagious delight, assuring his client that “we shall give them a bunny book to conjure with.”

Norman and Beatrix go on to “conjure” a series of books, including “The Tale of Two Bad Mice” and “The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck.” “Miss Potter” suggests that Norman’s appreciation for Beatrix’s imagination — and his willingness to imagine the animals as her “friends,” as she does — make him a suitable romantic partner.

“We do rather make a good team,” he tells her. Their very proper flirtations are quite charming, as is Beatrix’s enthusiastic friendship with Norman’s sister Amelia.

But even as she enjoys her new relationships, Beatrix must contend with social expectations, as embodied by her generous, mustachioed father, Rupert (Bill Paterson), who tends to give in to the wishes of her sterner mother, Helen (Barbara Flynn).

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that, while this film focuses on “Peter Rabbit” author Beatrix Potter’s career and classic children’s books, it’s really aimed more at adults than children (and the younger set will probably prefer the books).

It deals with some mature themes, including the death of a loved one and disagreements between an adult child and her parents. Beatrix’s mother repeatedly denigrates her desire to paint and tell stories. Parents and child also disagree over Beatrix’s choice for a husband.

When a protagonist dies suddenly, survivors show grief. Some characters drink socially, and one drinks to the point of passing out (this is treated as comedy).

Families can discuss the conflict Beatrix feels between the expectations others have for her (to be a proper wife to a man of her class) and her own ambitions (writing and illustrating books).

How is her dilemma shown in the movie? How do her parents respond differently to her decisions? How does her romance with Norman help “smooth over” the potential abrasiveness of her career ambitions? What effect (if any) do modern opinions about feminism and achievement have on the way the story is told?

Sexual content: Discussion of proper behavior for an unmarried woman; some embarrassed dancing and gentle kissing between the central couple.

Language alert: Mild cursing.

Violence alert: Grief is expressed when a central character dies unexpectedly (the death occurs off-screen).

Social-behavior alert: Characters, for the most part, are well-behaved. That said, Beatrix does resist her parents’ will.

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