The Velveteen Rabbit (2009)

Rated G. Our ratings: V- 0; L- 0; S/N-0. Running time: 1 hour 28 min.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds
everything together in perfect harmony.
Colossians 3:14

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.
Matthew 19:13-15

The Velveteen Rabbit

Fans of Margery Williams’ 1922 novel The Velveteen Rabbit might be a bit upset by director Michael Landon Jr.’s version of her book, but those seeking a good family film that everyone can watch to gether will find much to admire in it. The credits do say “Inspired by…” , and so Mr. Landon’s riff on the original, in collaboration with screenwriter Cindy Kelly, has served up a delightful treat about a boy, a father, and a grandmother who need the kind of love and joy that the unfettered imagination can bring.

It is the early 20th century, and Toby (Matthew Harbour), at the age when he still believes in Santa Claus, is traveling on a train with his stern father John ( Kevin Jubinville) to be dropped off at the large home of stuffy grandmother, Ellen (Una Kay). With his wife dead, John declares that he is too busy to tend to his son’s needs, even though Christmas is close at hand. Grandmother, less than pleased to have her grandson foisted on her, warns the boy never to run in the house and always to pick up his toys after he has played.

Just what great toys await him we soon see when the lonely boy climbs to the attic and spies a stuffed swan, a small rocking horse, and inside a gift box that his deceased mother had intended for him, a stuffed rabbit. Wanting companions, he is startled to discover that his imagination has brought the three toys to life. Told by his grandmother that his father used to spend most of his time in that room, which he had dubbed “The Magic Attic,” Toby is soon experiencing that magic as his body is transferred into the animated world where he and his three toy friends explore the colorful fields and woods.

He learns that Swan (voiced by Ellen Burstyn) was his grandmother favorite toy, and that Horse was his father (Tom Skerritt). Rabbit (voiced by Chandler Wakefield), who becomes his own favorite, longs to become a real rabbit. There is much talk among the four about love and becoming real (though the book’s oft-quoted passage about real and love is not included), and we see this happening among the humans, as Grandmother, Toby, and ultimately Father, are transformed by the power that begins with a child’s imagination and blossoms into a renewed relationship.

The film, supposedly scheduled for theatrical release, was made back in 2007, and is now being issued on DVD. There was also another feature film based on the book released in 2007, so this might account for the producers’ delay in securing its distribution. Which shows that even with a famous name such as director Michael Landon, Jr.’, as well as some of the cast’s, it can be difficult to get a film distributed theatrically. (And speaking of fame, Jane Seymour’s fame is such that she is listed first as star of the film, and yet her character, Toby’s deceased Mom, is on screen no more than five minutes.) A good family film that would make a good addition to the church’s library.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What do you think of Father and Grandmother when you first see them? Do either seem to have any understanding or sympathy for Toby? Why is the season of the year an especially cruel time for Father to leave his son?

2. How are Father and Grandfather like the disciples in the passage from Matthew? Note what Jesus had said earlier about the kingdom in Matthew 18:1-5.

3. What is it that brings the animals to life in the attic? Why is Toby surprised to learn that his father had dubbed it “The Magic Attic” ? What is the “magic” ? What apparently had happened to Father through the years—similar to the disciples in the passages in Matthew? Can you remember when imagination transformed you and your surroundings—perhaps a porch becoming the deck of a pirate ship; you and your friends were soldiers defending your country; the back yard becoming the plains of the Great West and a horse head on a broom stick your mighty steed as you outraced Indians or pursued outlaws? Can your imagination still transport you to other realms or change even a boring situation into a time of reflection?

4. Compare this film and it’s theme of childhood imagination with Peter Pan. The latter is about a boy who refuses to grow up, but how is Peter’s refusal very different from holding on to the imagination of a child? What is the difference between child and childish, and why is this important?

5. Imagination proves to be a gateway for transformation: what is the transforming power itself? (See the Colossians passage.)

6. For those trying to recall the golden passage from the book, here it is: “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams