Director Michael Landon, Jr. is coming out with another endearing movie, this time bringing the beloved classic tale of “The Velveteen Rabbit” to the big screen.
“I loved the story as a child and revisited it with my own children,” said Landon, in a phone interview from his home in Texas.
“I knew there were short films based on the book, but I wanted to explore telling the story from the little boy, Toby’s, point of view, rather than from the rabbit’s. So I collaborated with my writing partner, Cindy Kelley, to create the script,” he explains.
“The Velveteen Rabbit,” became an instant literary classic in 1922 when it was written by then-41-year-old Margery Williams of London, England. It remains a steadfast treasure on the bookshelves of today’s children.
The classic tale is about the transformative power of love starring a charming stuffed rabbit. In Landon’s big screen version, the star is a lonely youngster.
“A young boy is sent to spend the holidays with his stern grandmother. In the magic attic there are forgotten toys. The toys come to life and unlock a beautiful world of imagination for the boy,” said Landon. “It’s all about how love makes us real. In the imaginary world, this boy is loved and eventually he finds real love as a real boy.”
The moving film that’s 60 percent live-action, and 40 percent animation features the voices of Golden Globe winner Jane Seymour, Emmy Award winner Tom Skerritt and Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn. Landon produced, directed and co-wrote the script for the film. He says the live-action portion of the film was shot in Montreal several years ago.
“When the Hollywood stars saw what was shot so far, they loved it and signed on right away to do the voices in the animated sections,” Landon said.
“[When] Ellen Burstyn saw it, she cried and loved it!” he adds with enthusiasm.
According to Landon, the theme of the movie is “love makes us real.” The thought fits hand-in-glove with Landon’s Christian faith, which was developed as a teen when his mom invited him to church.
Landon, who is the father of three children, has a passion for directing meaningful family films. He solidified his fame as the director of the “Love Comes Softly” series based on the novels by Christian author Janette Oke.
The first film in the series took industry executives by surprise when it raised the Hallmark Channel’s ratings by 40 percent. Landon went on to make several more films, along with another hit, “Saving Sarah Cain.”
A legacy of film
Landon’s love for wholesome story-telling also comes from the legacy left by his father, actor Michael Landon, who became famous at the age of 22 when he landed the part of Little Joe Cartwright in “Bonanza,” one of the first television series to be broadcast in color. Soon after, the senior Landon became a cultural icon as the beloved father on the television series “Little House on the Prairie.”
It took a long time for young Landon’s success, which he contributes to his own struggles as a teen and dealing with a divorce and other issues. Landon says it was also difficult because Hollywood is so competitive, and many film executives are not exactly clamoring for wholesome family projects.
But Landon paid his dues. He worked at small, behind-the-scenes jobs, was a camera operator for eight years and studied at the American Film Institute.
“I’m not an overnight kind of guy. I still struggle to get a movie made,” Landon explained. “It’s a very competitive business. You work hard, hope and pray that the story gets told.”
Parents of young children will be delighted to know “The Velveteen Rabbit” is rated G and appropriate for all ages.
“I think everyone will get something from it. It’s really targeted to grandparents and parents with children age 10 and younger,” Landon said.
“My hope is that everyone is entertained and that people are encouraged to love a little more. They’ll see hearts changed in the film and that characters come to life by loving.”
“The Velveteen Rabbit” will be in select theaters and available everywhere on DVD on March 17. The film’s website is complete with discussion guide questions that can be used in the classroom or church group settings. For more information, visit TheVelveteenRabbitMovie.com.