The new Peter Rabbit movie featuring a new take on some of the beloved Beatrix Potter characters many of us grew up with was bound to ruffle a few feathers (beyond those of Jemima Puddle-Duck). But the film is causing a stir with parents for a completely unrelated reason: its depiction of food allergies.
It’s one particular scene that’s not sitting well. In the scene, Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden) and his assorted rabbit friends gang up on human character Thomas McGregor (played by Domhnall Gleeson) by throwing an assortment of fruits and vegetables at him as part of the their attempt to take over McGregor’s garden through use of force. Eventually, they use a slingshot to catapult a blackberry into his mouth despite prior knowledge he is allergic to the dark berry.
The plan worked, and McGregor immediately attempts to inject himself with an EpiPen and then goes into anaphylactic shock before collapsing.
More: “Please Don’t Kill My Kid”: From a Food Allergy Mom
Many parents are less than impressed, arguing that the film does not take food allergies seriously, using them as a plot device and a way to attack a person and are calling for a boycott of the movie.
Sony Pictures, which is behind Peter Rabbit, has issued an apology in the form of an email statement to The New York Times, which reads, “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.”
Kenneth Mendez, the president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, issued an open letter to the makers of the film over the weekend expressing concern over “the intentional attack of the McGregor character with the food he is allergic to — the implication being that the rabbits wanted to kill or harm McGregor with this method.” He is also worried that this segment suggests that food allergies are “made up for attention.”
Additionally, Mendez points out that this is not the first time Sony Pictures Animation has used food allergies as a punch line in the plot of a kids movie; other offending films included The Smurfs and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, he says.
Others, like Scott Mendelson at Forbes, do not think Sony needed to apologize. “I get why they did, but Sony shouldn’t have apologized for pretty conventional storytelling in the service of a standard character arc,” he writes. “Yes, Peter uses Thomas’ allergy against him in a moment of cruelty, but the emergency is quickly solved (sans any melodrama or much in the way of comic reactions) and Peter’s behavior is not remotely viewed as positive or becoming of a true onscreen hero (Paddington would have not have approved).”
Despite how they appear in the movie, food allergies are no joke and definitely should not be used as a means to maim other people — even if animated rabbits say otherwise.