Miss Potter

Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Jan. 5. Rated PG. 93 minutes.

How the Beatrix Potter franchise—with its tight-lipped moral justice visited upon insipid mice, bunnies, and the truly insufferable Jemima Puddle Duck— continues to flourish in this age of permissive parenting is a mystery, but surely there's a meaty drama to be made about the dark forces that drove this dyed-in-the-wool Victorian. Director Chris Noonan (who made Babe) and screenwriter Richard Maltby Jr. are having none of it. Blackness may have lurked within the Potter heart, but you'd never know it from Miss Potter, which shifts the burden of ill humor onto the lady authoress' petit bourgeois mother (the excellent Barbara Flynn), thus freeing Renée Zellweger to perk up Beatrix into a chipper cross between Bridget Jones and Mary Poppins. Smiling nervously as if not to unseat the mustache precariously affixed to his upper lip, Ewan McGregor does nothing to convince us that his pallid publisher is the love of Beatrix's life, his untimely death withering her creative juices until a sensible country solicitor (Lloyd Owen) restores her pink-cheeked vivacity. The only bright spots here are the all-too-sparing special effects, in which Peter and his pals come to life, rise up, and quite understandably scuttle away from their wimpy creator. ELLA TAYLOR

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