A scene from PG-rated film Peter Rabbit has ruffled feathers among parents and medical associations across the world following the title’s cinema release in February.
The film, which was released by Sony Pictures Animation, is based on the famous children’s book by English writer Beatrix Potter and follows the adventures of a hot-headed but adorable bunny.
In a scene which has since drawn controversy, Tom McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson), the antagonist of the story, is immersed in a full-blown fight with a gang of feisty computer-generated rabbits for the control of his garden.
McGregor is allergic to blackberries, so the cheeky rabbits exploit his condition by using a slingshot to shoot a blackberry straight into his mouth.
McGregor is forced to use an EpiPen to stop the reaction, has an anaphylactic reaction and collapses. He does immediately revive, though, and the confrontation resumes.
To be honest, the scene is a slapstick parody of war films, resembling the likes of Wile E. Coyote vs. Road Runner – or even Tom and Jerry.
But many have voiced their concern about how the film trivialises the issue of allergies, a very real problem.
In an open letter to the filmmakers, Mr. Kenneth Mendez, the president and chief executive of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, said:
“Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger.”
Dr Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioural paediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, also had some concerns with the two-minute scene.
Although he enjoyed the Wile E. Coyote cartoons as a child, he said the blackberry attack in Peter Rabbit is a bit different as it makes fun of a real health condition.
“There’s some research out there suggesting that what is depicted in this movie is a real-world experience for some children with life-threatening food allergies,” Dr Adesman told the New York Times.
“I can understand the outrage.”
Australian group Global Anaphylaxis Awareness and Inclusivity (Globalaai) joined those criticising the scene and started a petition for Sony to apologise.
“This mocks the seriousness of allergic disease and is heartbreakingly disrespectful to the families of those that have lost loved ones to anaphylaxis,” the group wrote.
Peter Rabbit’s filmmakers did end up issuing a formal apology for taking allergies too lightly and failing to attach sufficient importance to the problem.
“We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologise,” the company said in a statement.
“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.”