Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Velveteen Rabbit, on Apple TV+

What do Rankin-Bass, Hanna-Barbera, pianist George Winston, and Don Bluth all now have in common with Magic Lantern Pictures (the producers of The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom)? They have all worked on adaptations of Margey Williams children’s classic. Sadly, Bluth’s never came to fruition, but the latest from Magic Lantern might just become the definitive version. Jennifer Perrott’s The Velveteen Rabbit (with animation directed by Rick Thiele) also plays up Christmas, making it perfectly timed to premiere this Wednesday on Apple TV+.

While clocking in at a kid-friendly 45-minutes, this
Velveteen Rabbit incorporates live-action with both stop-motion animation of the Rabbit interacting with the other toys and traditional cell animation of the floppy-eared mammal’s imaginary adventures with William. The lad is a shy and moody little boy, who is having trouble making friends in his new school. (You would think he would have no trouble making friends, because his family is clearly loaded, but so be it.)

Ever since William received the Rabbit as his first Christmas present in their sprawling new manor house, they have been inseparable. Yet, the snobby other toys look down on the Rabbit, because he lacks their shiny metallic parts. Nevertheless, when William gets sick, it is the Velveteen Rabbit who offers him comfort.

In some ways, Williams’ story is a bit of a downer. To the credit of all involved, including screenwriter Tom Bidwell, the Magic Lantern production stays faithful to the early 1920’s realities of Scarlet Fever. Yet, when you really think about it, the Rabbit’s ultimately reward definitely relates to some seriously Christmasy themes.

The various styles of animation are rendered with style and warmth. In all his forms. the Rabbit is quite sweet, evoking memories of beloved children’s stuffed animals. Alex Lawther’s sensitive voice-over performance aptly suits him. Helena Bonham Carter and Nathaniel Parker also supply the voices of the Wise Horse toy and the live male rabbit, but this is not a celebrity voice-driven film (like
Shrek). It is refreshingly old-fashioned and restrained. Maybe the human cast is a little too restrained, but Tilly Vosburgh is quite nice as Mary (Momo), the boy’s governess.

Velveteen Rabbit is classy family entertainment, but adults might enjoy it more for its nostalgia than their Ritalin-addicted hellions. Highly recommended for fans of live action-animation hybrids, The Velveteen Rabbit starts streaming Wednesday (11/22) on Apple TV+.