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Off The Shelf – The Velveteen Rabbit

Concept art for The Velveteen Rabbit by Fred WarterConcept art for The Velveteen Rabbit by Fred Warter

The last decade, filled as it was with corporate turmoil at the Walt Disney Company, has proved a veritable elephant’s graveyard of abandoned ideas and projects at Walt Disney Animation. First there were the long-in-gestation projects that were scuttled with the purge of traditional animation in 2003 and 2004, then there were the projects that were briefly reassigned to computer animators only to then be canceled, and then there were the projects that were abandoned when John Lasseter and the new management arrived in 2006 and those that might have disappeared since.

It’s not surprising with this shifting landscape, and the ephemeral nature of animation projects in general, that there are quite a few abandoned productions that remain poorly known today. One of these, I’ve been surprised to discover, was an adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit, the 1922 children’s novel by Margery Williams.

Concept art for The Velveteen Rabbit by Fred WarterConcept art for The Velveteen Rabbit by Fred Warter

Around three or four years ago, Disney worked on bringing this beloved story to the screen. According to artist Fred Warter, who worked on the project and posted this wonderful artwork on his blog, the project was canceled because Disney could never break the story.

As surprised as I was that Disney had recently worked on adapting this story, I’m even more surprised that they gave up on it. The Velveteen Rabbit is an extremely well-known tale; I’m sure they worried that it would duplicate some of the themes of Toy Story, or were concerned that it would skew too young, but I’d much rather see this than Winnie-the-Pooh.

Anyway, I probably wouldn’t be especially intrigued about the project but I find these pieces of concept art extremely appealing. They convey a “lived in” warmth that seems rare in digital concept art, and convince me that a computer animated version of such an simple and organic tale could work without feeling sterile or cold.

That’s a glimpse at one of the many unsung projects at Walt Disney Feature Animation in the last decade; as always, I’ll try and keep an eye out for more information on productions lost to the mists of time. Be sure and drop by Warter’s blog to see more of his great artwork.

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