The review of The Velveteen Rabbit is even more touching due to its connection to Matthew Perry.
What is it that makes the concept of inanimate objects coming to life so emotionally powerful? If you don’t find yourself shedding tears by the end of The Snowman or Toy Story 3, you must have a stronger emotional fortitude than I do. Part of it is likely due to the portrayal of childhood innocence and the bittersweet joy that comes from playing with toys. However, these stories also often touch on themes of loss, as the Snowman eventually melts and toys are outgrown and discarded. To be alive is to experience feelings of rejection, being ignored, and being forgotten, ultimately leading to death. This is already a sad fate for humanity – can we at least spare the teddy bears?
The Velveteen Rabbit, a delightful book for children written by Margery Williams in 1922, is a poignant example of the toys-become-real theme. It follows the journey of a stuffed rabbit given as a Christmas gift to a young boy. During a conversation in the playroom, the wise Skin Horse, a large toy horse on wheels, tells the rabbit that he can become real if he is loved enough by his owner. As the boy grows to love him, he declares the rabbit to be real. However, when the boy takes him outside to play one day, the rabbit meets real rabbits and yearns to become truly alive. Eventually, after being discarded and heartbroken by the boy during a bout of scarlet fever, the rabbit’s wish is granted and he becomes real.
Although the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams, was born in Britain and the book contains elements of dry English humor, it is more popular in the United States, with over 1 million copies sold. Its centenary was widely celebrated by American media last year, but it is primarily recognized by a certain British group for its appearances in two episodes of the TV show Friends. In these episodes, the character Chandler, played by the late Matthew Perry, either searches for a first edition as a gift for a love interest or receives a Halloween costume based on the story from his partner Monica. This connection adds an extra layer of emotion to an already heartwarming story.
After numerous American adaptations, we now have the first significant British rendition. Tom Bidwell, known for his work on the beloved BBC adaptation of Watership Down in 2018, takes the lead on this project. The story is set in a charming manor house, complete with all the beauty and elegance of the inter-war era: a caring nanny, stunning color schemes that could brighten any Pinterest board, and enviable knitwear. Bidwell also adds a supplementary plot, where the main character, William, must leave his idyllic school behind as he moves to a new home. In his new country residence, William struggles with loneliness and finds it hard to make friends with other children. This additional layer adds depth to the story and explains why William (played by the endearing Phoenix Laroche) forms such a strong bond with the velveteen rabbit, which some may initially view as too childish for him.
Bidwell adds another layer to the story, making it even more confusing. The wise Horse, played by Helena Bonham Carter, becomes real because of the love from the boy’s uncle, even though she is just a toy. However, there is another level of logic added here. The rabbit chooses to go to the sick child’s bed, even though he knows he will be destroyed afterwards. This selfless act, rather than the boy’s love for him, is what makes the rabbit real. In contrast, the dreamy fairy, played by Nicola Coughlan from Derry Girls, states that you become real by showing unconditional love, contradicting the Horse and further confusing the message of the book.
The underlying confusion somewhat diminishes the emotional peak of The Velveteen Rabbit: it’s difficult to fully experience the warm, nostalgic feeling when you’re still trying to make sense of the story itself. However, the main message – that love is what truly makes us real – still manages to evoke tears. From the powerful soundtrack to the lingering shots of sad expressions, the film isn’t afraid to be sentimental. Yet, this does not take away from the relatable emotional truth of William’s loneliness, or the heart-wrenching bond he forms with the rabbit, voiced by Alex Lawther with a perfect blend of innocent vulnerability and inner strength. Lawther is best known for his role in Channel 4’s The End of The F***ing World (a feeling that the velveteen rabbit knows all too well).
Although it incorporates a festive atmosphere and showcases skilled artistry, it’s difficult to envision this version gaining a permanent spot in Christmas television or elevating its original inspiration to a revered classic in its country of origin. Nonetheless, it offers a delightful dose of sentimental warmth that is sure to soften even the toughest of hearts.