Sony Pictures apologises for 'making light of' food allergies in new Peter Rabbit movie

Photo: Sony Pictures
Photo: Sony Pictures 

Peter Rabbit filmmakers and the studio behind it are apologising for insensitively depicting a character's allergy in the film that has prompted backlash online.

Sony Pictures has released a statement saying the film "should not have made light" of a character being allergic to blackberries "even in a cartoonish, slapstick" way.

In Peter Rabbit which was released this weekend, the character of Mr McGregor is allergic to blackberries. The rabbits fling the fruit at him in a scene and when one berry lands in his mouth, he begins to choke before injecting himself with anĀ EpiPen.

The charity group Kids with Food Allergies posted a warning about the scene on its Facebook page Friday prompting some on Twitter to start using the hashtag #boycottpeterrabbit.

The studio and filmmakers say they regret not being more aware and sensitive to the issue.

The movie, which debutedĀ in the US over the weekend, came in second place at the box office, earning $US25million. Reviews so far have been mixed, with some applauding its computer-generated animation and "charming," "clever" characters. But many critics agreed it was a far cry from Potter's gentler vision.

The Kids With Food Allergies Foundation Facebook post condemned the scene, calling it "disturbing." Such food allergy "jokes," the group said, "are harmful to our community."

Kenneth Mendez, president and chief executive of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, wrote an open letter to Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Pictures Animation, Columbia Pictures and Animal Logic, saying the movie "suggests that food allergies are 'made up for attention.' "

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"The very real fear and anxiety that people experience during an allergic reaction (often referred to as an impending sense of doom) is a serious matter," the group wrote. "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."

"We would welcome the opportunity to educate your company and the cast of the movie about the realities of food allergy so that they and your viewing audience can better understand and recognise the gravity of the disease," Mendez added.

The group said this wasn't the first time Sony Pictures has "used food allergies as a punchline in the plot of a kids' movie." It mentioned examples of "misrepresented food allergies" in movies such as "The Smurfs" and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs."

It also pointed out recent real-life accounts of people using food to bully children with allergies.

For example, in a Dec. 13 incident, a 14-year-old girl was accused of rubbing pineapple on her own hand and then high-fiving a girl allergic to the fruit during lunch. Police said the girl knew about the classmate's pineapple allergy, and the fruit was not typically served during that lunch period.

The victim, also 14, was transported to a hospital, where she was treated and released. The 14-year-old suspect was charged in juvenile court with felony aggravated assault and criminal conspiracy, among other offences. Two other girls, who are 13 and 14, were charged with criminal conspiracy, among other offences.

In July, a 13-year-old London boy with a dairy allergy died after suffering a severe reaction to a piece of cheese allegedly forced on him during a school break, the Guardian reported.

Peter Rabbit is due to be released in Australian cinemas on March 22.