Mary Bunting (Lesley Roach) lives in a small village in the countryside, but she could do with a good friend to confide in. What she really wants is a pet rabbit, but her mother is against the idea because she doesn't like the animals at all and suggests a kitten instead. With her birthday approaching, Mary doesn't think she will ever get her bunny until she notices a bunch of roses appear on the table in front of her. And then, as if by magic, a giant rabbit materialises before her and introduces himself as Mr Horatio Knibbles (Anthony Shepard)...
What's invisible and smells of carrots? Why Mr Horatio Knibbles, of course! Although he is quite happy to reveal himself to you if you swear you love rabbits and count to five with your eyes closed. This was one of the plethora of Childrens Film Foundation movies from Britain, most of them barely lasting an hour, that were released from the fifties to the mid-eighties, though by that time production had slowed to a crawl. A select few have strong nostalgic value for adults who enjoyed them as kids, and one of the best loved was this item.
Essentially, it's Harvey for kids, and while Mary doesn't get drunk at any point, she still has some explaining to do to the rest of the characters who don't believe in such things as man-sized rabbits. The story taps into a powerful facet of childhood, the imaginary friend, and has Mary's pal being all too real for its novelty. He's a lot like the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, certainly dressed like a Victorian gentleman with his top hat and waistcoat, though he's not entirely perfect as he has a big appetite and tends to demolish any food around.
The whole plot revolves around Mary feeling aggrieved that no one will accept what she's saying as true, and eventually she runs away to be with Mr Knibbles. He doesn't live far away, just in a rhododendron bush in the woods, and after Mary contacts him through squirrel post (thanks to a trained squirrel - nice) she turns up on his doorstep next morning. He is quite befuddled and explains she cannot live there with him, but they go out for the day nevertheless, ending up fishing by the river. However, the gamekeeper (Freddie Jones) tries to put a stop to that, so Mr Knibbles grabs the shotgun off him and blows him away!
No, only joking, but he does grab the shotgun and scares the gamekeeper by making it look as if it is floating around in front of him - he's invisible, remember. There is one adult who gets to see the giant rabbit before the ending, and he is the local constable, a rather silly fellow charmingly played by Fred Evans who says the spell and is then introduced. After he gets over the shock, he is delighted, but his sergeant (David Lodge) is not so impressed, and has the same view as Mary's parents do. The fact that the little girl runs away is treated almost casually, but she is searched for and when she is found she is in trouble, because her mother thinks she has stolen her wedding ring. Mr K knows the real reason for that, and it all resolves itself in a happy ending. Truly enchanting in spite of its low budget and ramshackle production, the film fully deserves its place in the hearts of those who enjoyed it way back when. Music by Muir Matheson.
[The BFI have released the Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box, which includes the following films: