The Velveteen Rabbit (Rabbit Ears Productions, Random House Home Video, 1985)

To be real; this is the wish of the lonesome Velveteen Rabbit, who lives in the nursery, with his friend the wise old Skin Horse, the tin toys, wind-up airplanes, and other stuffed animals. He is not a fancy toy, nor expensive; he is filled only with sawdust and is sewn without any moving parts. Many of the other toys make fun of him, or simply overlook him for his simplicity, and even the young Boy who plays with the toys, pays him little attention after Christmas morning. The little Rabbit becomes quite sad, feeling the purposelessness of his existence as a toy, and confides in the Skin Horse, asking him “What is REAL?” In response, the Skin Horse tells him, “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.”

The Boy does come to love his Rabbit, very much so. He even professes that his Rabbit isn’t a toy, he is real. Oh, how that warms the Rabbit’s “little sawdust heart”! The Boy loves him until his eyes have no more shine, and his velveteen fur becomes bare. But the Boy gets scarlet fever, and after the long illness, the Rabbit must be destroyed, with all the other toys that might have germs on them. The Velveteen Rabbit ends up outside in a sack with the others, awaiting a final ending he truly doesn’t understand. Lying with his head outside the sack, he sadly remembers all the wonderful things he did with the Boy. In this moment of melancholy reflection, he sheds a real tear, which makes him more real than anything else, figuratively and literally. This tear brings forth a beautiful flower, and from within it, a beautiful fairy, who teaches him an even deeper understanding of what it means to be real.

This story always made me sad when I was a young child, despite the happy ending. The story evokes sentimentality; I felt badly for the sweet animal. I wished he could simply become real on his own, without depending upon the love of another, no matter how bright or beautiful that love might be. I still feel this way about The Velveteen Rabbit. As sweet a story as it is, it leaves me feeling sad.

The positive insights this story offers to children are that love has the capacity to bring about transformation, and that love should know no bounds -- even the shabbiest of us is real enough to receive love.

The story is a classic, enjoyed by generations since its first publication in 1922. The author, Margery Williams, was inspired by one of her own childhood toys and wrote the story for her son. The Velveteen Rabbit has long held the attention of children and parents alike.

In this animated DVD version, David Jorgensen’s lovely illustrations are a perfect expression of the gentleness of the story and the sweet emotion of the Rabbit. They are delicately done in soft colors, and move artistically from frame to frame. Meryl Streep narrates the story in a clear, comforting, emotive voice that is at once both quiet and strong. Music by George Winston creates an atmosphere that reflects the mood of the story -- lonesome, excited, forlorn, happy, suspenseful, and triumphant -- in musical language that can be appreciated by little ones. This version of The Velveteen Rabbit is quite charming, and is recommended for young children -- and their parents, of course.

[Nellie Levine]