Discover more from Film Yap
The Velveteen Rabbit
An absolutely exquisite adaptation of the beloved children's novel that deserves to become an instant Christmas classic. Bring tissues.
Film Yap is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
At 45 minutes, I’m not sure if you’d call “The Velveteen Rabbit,” debuting Wednesday on Apple TV+, a short feature film or a long short film. Either way, it’s an absolutely exquisite piece of filmmaking that deserves to become an instant holiday classic.
Based on the novel by Margery Williams, it’s the story of a 7-year-old British boy named William (Phoenix Laroche) who is given the titular rabbit for Christmas and instantly becomes best friends with him. It’s a live-action film but the portions where Rabbit comes alive are animated, alternately in stop-motion and traditional drawn animation.
There are other toys as well, including Wise Horse (Helena Bonham Carter), a wheeled equine who is the voice of reason; King (Paterson Joseph), a little too full of himself and his splendid clothes; Lion (Clive Rowe), not as good at pouncing as he likes to think; and Car (Lois Chimimba), who thinks Rabbit isn’t a very good toy because he’s not realistic-looking and has no moving parts.
When humans are around the toys look and act like inanimate objects, but when alone they talk and bicker among themselves, especially over who is currently the favorite toy. How they relate to their child is the chief animating force of their consciousness.
If this all sounds suspiciously similar to the “Toy Story” films, I’ll point out that Williams’ book was published in 1921. So if there was any “inspired borrowing” going on, it was the other way around.
(“The Velveteen Rabbit” has previously been adapted into a number of short films and television specials, and a 2009 feature film — all unseen by me.)
Directed by Jennifer Perrott and Rick Thiele from a screenplay by Tom Bidwell, the movie is full of gorgeous color and music. The live action cinematography, costumes and production design are incredible, and the animated sequences act as charming excursions into the imagined adventures of William and Rabbit (as he calls him.)
William seems like a happy boy but grows very sad and lonely when his parents (Samantha Colley and Leonard Buckley) move him to a new home in the countryside. He is afraid to play with other children living next door and keeps to himself at school. Luckily, the arrival of Rabbit in his Christmas stocking alleviates the need for human companionship.
Their fantasies take them for all sorts of lively jaunts, from running from a ferocious wolf to digging a secret underground tunnel so William can see his old friends again. As the calendar spins around to the point another Christmas draws near, his parents begin to worry about William not fitting in.
For his own part, Rabbit is challenged by some of the other toys that he will never be “real,” as they see themselves. He grows worrisome about his relationship with William, especially as he becomes more frayed from constant play. He meets some regular rabbits on the edge of the forest, who are also dismissive of his aspirations to be like them.
Advice will come in the form of the Playroom Fairy (Nicola Coughlan), a sprite who sets Rabbit to right as he tries to understand his place in the world, and in William’s heart.
“The Velveteen Rabbit” is probably best pitched to smaller children and their parents, though I think its appeal goes further than that. I watched it with my 10-year-old, very much into baseball and becoming a teenager as quickly as possible, and he was transfixed the whole time.
As was I. This is a sweet, and somewhat sad, story about what it really means to be a child and learn about how the world works — and especially what it is to love, and be loved, unconditionally.