OK, Fine: Let's Talk About the Food Allergy Scene in 'Peter Rabbit'

Dustin Rowles | Film | February 12, 2018

Last December, after watching Ferdinand, I had vowed to stop spending exorbitant amounts of money to take my kids to see mediocre kids movies. However, the two releases since then have made it difficult to follow through on that plan. I had to take them to see Paddington 2 because it’s perfect, although I refused them concessions for the first time ever. Peter Rabbit seemed like the ideal opportunity to finally skip out on a kids movie, but Kristy loved the movie and the twins’ birthday is on Wednesday, so not only did I take them, but I bought the full array of concessions. I am a sad, sad pushover.

The movie was good. The physical comedy was fantastic, and the Rooster was a scream. There was one scene, however, that caused considerable controversy. Amazingly, it was not the one where Mr. McGregor died of a heart attack and Peter Rabbit poked his eyeballs comically to see if he was still alive (the conversation in the car after that was interesting: “Why did he die? Did he eat too much sugar? Why did Peter poke him in the eye? Was he trying to poke his brain? How old was he? Are you that old, Daddy? Are you going to die, too? What about when we’re 100? Are you going to be dead then? When are we going to die?”)

No, it wasn’t the violent death of Mr. McGregor, nor was it the fact that Mr. McGregor put Peter’s father in a pie before he died. The scene that caused so much controversy that the studio has had to apologize for it is the one in which the rabbits pelt the Younger McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) with blackberries, knowing that he’s allergic to them.

Oh brother. The allergy people are overblowing the hell out of this issue, huh?

Well, I don’t know. It’s a funny scene — one of the rabbits slingshots a blackberry right into Tom McGregor’s mouth, and he goes into anaphylactic shock. He manages to inject himself with an EpiPen before he dies, however. He passes out, the rabbits believe they have won the battle, and a few seconds later, Tom returns to life, like The Terminator. This scene actually comes after a scene in which a smarmy Peter Rabbit mocks the proliferation of food allergies and suggests that, in some cases, they’re way overblown.

It’s an obnoxious but funny scene (which describes James Corden’s performance as Peter), and as a parent with kids who don’t have any food allergies, I kind of nodded along agreeably with Peter and rolled my eyes at the controversy that it sparked. “Allergy bullying” sounds like some bullshit issue stirred by helicopter parents.

But on the other hand, I totally get it. I took my kid and his friend to a water park a couple of years ago, and I had to bring along the friend’s EpiPen kit because he was deathly allergic to everything. Even in that brief, three-hour window, it weighed on me. It was intense — I had to ask all the food services people if they knew if there were any nut allergens in their products, and I kept my eye on that kid constantly, fearing the worst.

So, I imagine what it might feel like to be a parent of a kid who could accidentally eat the wrong thing and go into anaphylactic shock. And then I think about how much more worried I’d be when the kid is at school and I don’t have any control over the environment. And then I think about how shitty some kids can be, and how learning that a classmate has a peanut allergy might encourage a “friend” to use that weakness against kids with food allergies. I think about kids taunting other kids with peanut butter sandwiches, or holding a handful of peanuts in front of their face and saying, “What would happen if I dropped this on you?”

And then I think, “Oh fuck that kid. What an asshole. You can’t taunt kids like that! You’re basically holding a loaded weapon over their heads,” and then I think, “Oh. Huh. That’s exactly what Peter Rabbit does in this movie.”

I get it now. Being a parent means being worried about your kid’s wellbeing every single minute of the day, and being doubly worried when that kid is in someone else’s care, and triply worried when something as innocuous as a blackberry can kill them.

So, yeah: I understand why those parents might not have a great sense of humor when it comes to food allergies. If I were in their position, I don’t know that I’d start demanding on social media that parents boycott the movie, but I understand the trepidation and anxiety. And while it is a dumb but funny gag, those parents who do take their kids to see Peter Rabbit might be wise to use that scene to start a conversation about bullying, about the seriousness of food allergies, and about how it’s not OK to taunt or even tease your friends about their food allergies, because as much as we might think it’s all overblown, it’s deathly serious to both parents and their kids with allergies.


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