The Velveteen Rabbit
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that although this engaging live-action/animated feature (based on the classic children's book) deals with some themes -- like neglect and death -- that may need explaining, it does so in a way that's gentle enough for young viewers. There are a couple of tense scenes involving a fire, and the main character's mother has died (it happened before the events shown in the movie). But ultimately this is a crowd-pleasing story with a heartwarming, family-centric message.
What's the story?
Sent to spend Christmas with his grandmother -- who has little tolerance for messes, noises, and most anything associated with children -- while his workaholic father logs yet more time at the office, 10-year-old only child Toby Morgan (Matthew Harbour) finds solace in an attic filled with forgotten toys. Among them is a soft rabbit that comes to life -- along with his pals, Swan (Ellen Burstyn) and Horse (Tom Skerritt) -- and injects much-needed whimsy into Toby's daily existence by showing him a world of imagination. The animals believe that being loved will transform them into living, breathing creatures, and Rabbit is hopeful that he'll soon be hopping on all fours like bunnies are supposed to do. But trouble looms: Life feels so much more joyful in make-believe land that Toby starts to think he might not want to leave. A bout of scarlet fever might make this wish come true -- but then what will become of his grandmother, whose rough edges have softened during his stay, or his father, who may have realized a little too late that what matters most is (as Rabbit and his friends also discover) not just love, but loving?
Is it any good?
Inspired by Margery Williams' classic children's book, this live-action/animated hybrid will please audiences of all ages. The animation is relatively rudimentary, but no matter: The story is full of heart. The animals pose the film's existential central question -- what makes you real? -- in a graceful way that younger audiences can understand but older viewers can contemplate, too. (That's a tricky feat.)
The cast is charming, especially Harbour, who manages to convey both childlike wonder and world weariness at the same time. His rapport with Una Kay, who plays his grandmother, is wonderful, transforming believably from distant to devoted as the story moves forward. Movies these days are often jaded or sardonic, so it's a treat to find a gem like THE VELVETEEN RABBIT that doesn't try too hard to be either. It's happy to just be.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the movie's central question: What makes someone/something real? Is it love? If so, why? Why were Toby's father and grandmother so distant from each other? Are their reasons understandable? How do their actions -- and their relationship -- affect Toby? How would you feel in Toby's position? And what did Rabbit bring to Toby's life (and vice-versa)? Is the change that comes over the family believable?