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Friday, February 27, 2009

The Velveteen Rabbit--Interview with Michael Landon, Jr.

Confession time. Up until yesterday, I had never read The Velveteen Rabbit.

I watched Michael Landon, Jr.’s film on Wednesday night with Phil and Zane then read the original version by Margery Williams on Thursday.

A Twitter friend said to me, “Call me a grump. I hate it when stories get turned around” which prompted my first question for Michael.

There are some “grumps” and naysayers who don’t want to see a classic like The Velveteen Rabbit change at all. What would you say to them?

“I don’t blame them. Margery Williams did an almost perfect job in telling her story and that’s why I didn’t do a ‘based upon approach.’ Trying to recreate The Velveteen Rabbit…it’s a visceral and internal experience. That’s the beauty of the story. It really, truly is an ‘inspired by’ version and not a “based upon.

“There really were two separate projects here. It’s not like a novel I’ve turned into a film, this is a completely separate story. In the original story, a story told in rabbit’s point of view, the Boy doesn’t even have a name. I wanted to tell a live action story, told form the boy’s point of view.

“I totally get the skeptics would not want to see The Velveteen Rabbit changed, but if they ventured out and watched it I think they would find another story containing the essence of what she told there. The heart of the story is there."

At this point, I made my confession known to Michael. He might have been pleased that I watched his film first and we joked about how my parents deprived me of a wonderful story. I added that when Phil, Zane and I watched the movie together, there wasn’t a dry eye between us. His response? “Oh good!” (Funny how writers and directors are overjoyed when their audience is brought to emotional meltdown.)

I had read some online articles on the anticipation of this film and noticed that there was concern about the emotional content of the film. Some people wondered if the profound sadness of the original story can be carried through to this version. I love Michael’s response. “The intense sadness is followed by great joy. I really believe as I’m getting older and older that the only way to joy is through sorrow.”

I must be getting old, too. I’ve found that the deeper the sorrow we face, the greater the joy is and we find it in simpler and more mundane things.

And speaking of joy (his segues were perfect and he had no clue what my questions were!) my next question was:

What is your favorite moment of the film?

“The moment where the father and son are emotionally reunited. For me, that moment when the fantasy, or the imaginary world that he lived in, was no longer needed.”

Is there a scene that surprised you? (This is where I had my moment of joy. I made him think. Michael was extremely complimentary and appreciative of my unique question. Yeah, you know I’m glowing!)

“It would probably have to be the scene with the grandmother--you get exited at the moment when the words on the page come to life and there’s a strong connecting point that carries the story forward--so when Toby suggests to his grandmother that she should drive to town, there’s a moment of chemistry that takes place, a moment you hoped for, an emotional payoff that you had hoped for. That connecting point between them was a beauty I wasn’t anticipating”

And honestly, that was a magical moment in the film for me, as well. Not because Michael liked it, though. I had made mental notes of points I wanted to highlight in the review and this was one of my favorite scenes. The acting was superb, the emotion was right-on, and it was probably one of the most perfect scenes in the film. I can see why Michael picked it.

I hated to end the interview, Michael’s voice was lyrical and soothing, his answers thoughtful, and his heart humble, as witnessed in this final question.

Without giving away anything, Horse had a few lines toward the end (I told him the lines I was thinking of, but I won’t tell you!) and there seemed to be almost an “Aslan” feeling. Did you go into making this film with that intent or did it occur organically? (I’m glowing again here, even more so than before I think, because I got a “Wow.” And a “That’s a great question!”)

“That actually was organic and it’s not even something I can take credit for. It wasn’t originally scripted-- it came out of the animation department’s side. There was some of that feeling, that theme of sacrifice but it wasn’t hit so hard, or on the nose, if you will. There was sacrifice in it, that’s a component of love, but that was on the animated side, they did that, more than it was intended.

“I was on the fence for this particular film, in a sense it was overtly Christian. I wasn’t sure if it was going to play right with the broader audience. As a Christian myself, I love it. I was concerned it was too 'on the nose.'”

I told him my opinion, and since you’re here, you get to hear it, too. I loved it. It wasn’t preachy and it certainly wasn’t shoved down my throat. Sacrifice is indeed a component of love, and the scene, the lines, and the theme—in my opinion—were acted out organically.

Which is why I asked the question. I wanted to know if Michael, a Christian, a director making Christian films, a director who is a Christian making a movie inspired by an extremely popular classic story, I wanted to know if he did it on purpose or if the story dictated it. My theory, story rules, holds true.

This was a memorable film. A dark, emotional, joyous tale that drags you through murky places that maybe you’d rather stay away from. Hits on feelings that you’d maybe rather not deal with. Focuses on truths that are hard to accept. And in the end, you know it’s right, even if it was difficult, in the end, there is a peace in the knowing.

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Karina said...

You are absolutely in your right to be proud and glowing! This was a great interview and review. Since The Velveteen Rabbit is absolutely one of my very favorite childhood stories, I can't wait to watch this version.

Elaina M. Avalos said...

Great interview, Michelle! I will recommend the movie to friends with kids. It sounds like a good one.

This was one of my favorite stories growing up.

heather said...

I like his approach of "inspired by" rather than "based on." This gives him creative license--it's his interpretation and retelling of the story rather than a translation. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis' retelling of the Psyche/Cupid story in his book Til We Have Faces.

Gin said...

Wow, what's a girl like you doing talking to a big time guy like that? ;)
Can't wait to see it.
And your theory will ALWAYS hold true, it's always all about the story!

Toni said...

Great Interview Mich! I'm really impressed with the questions and answers - the whole thing seemed to flow very naturally.

Would the film be interesting to 6th-12th grade kids in a youth group? :)

Mike said...