Warning: tears may be shed.
A beloved children’s story gets its umpteenth adaptation here, this time from the screenwriter of 2018’s Watership Down — who proves that it’s a story worth retelling. This version of The Velveteen Rabbit is mostly faithful to Margery Williams’ original 1920s-set tale, but it does pad the plot out with a backstory of sorts about the shy little boy at its center. We’re introduced to William on the last day he spends at his school before moving to another town; the filmmaking gently plays on memories of the scariness of that first-ever goodbye, starting us off on a tender melancholy note that sets the tone for the rest of the 45-minute-long seasonal special.
For his first Christmas in the family’s new house, William is given a cuddly toy bunny in which he finds the comfort and company he misses so acutely. If you had a beloved plaything as a child, chances are you wished they’d come alive with all the might that little you could conjure up — nostalgia that this adaptation taps right into when the rabbit comes to life via mixed animated styles. The sincere emotion of the duo’s commitment to each other — involving sickness and self-sacrifice — is thus difficult to resist, no matter how grown up you are.
The Velveteen Rabbit features stop-motion, 2D animated sequences, and more modern CGI to bring the bunny to life. These styles aren’t used haphazardly: there’s a clear logic to them, with the toy being rendered in cutesy stop-motion, the imaginary escapist adventures he goes on with William taking place in a style referencing the hand-drawn illustrations featured in the original book, and digital CGI used in place of real animals later on. The switches — especially between the first two styles — allow the movie to play on both nostalgia and imagination, a dual-handed approach that deepens its emotional impact.