Now that Easter is over, I suppose I should write about the relevant cartoons Beth and I watched this year.
A Claymation Easter – This was on the same DVD as A Claymation Christmas, and I thought it would be in a similar style, but it’s really something totally different with the same style of animation. Wilshire, a mad scientist pig, hears on the radio that the Easter Bunny turned down a five million dollar endorsement deal. In order to pay his insanely high electricity bill, he decides he should become the new Easter Bunny and sell out, to which end he traps the current one in a super-powerful vacuum cleaner. He turns to Dr. Spike Rabbit for lessons in acting like a bunny, claiming that he’s a rabbit trapped in a pig’s body, and he wants to come out of the carrot patch. Since this plays on LGBT terminology, it’s strangely relevant to the recent conservative insistence that trans women shouldn’t be allowed to play sports. Wilshire is co-opting LGBT terminology to gain an advantage in a contest, in this case the race to become the new Easter Bunny. I doubt anyone really thought about it that much, though.
Anyway, Spike finds out about the kidnapping, so Wilshire feeds both rabbits to his shark. While the pig cheats his way through the race, with plenty of booing but no disqualification, Spike sings a song to upset the shark’s insides, allowing him and the Easter Bunny to escape. A good gag here is that a few small sea creatures the shark had already swallowed, including a fish who’s just bones, briefly join in singing. The real Easter Bunny reclaims his throne, and Wilshire is hit by a truck. Considering the physics of this program, I suspect he survives, but it’s the last we see of him. The special is pretty bizarre and entertaining.
The First Easter Rabbit – While Rankin/Bass is largely known for their animated Christmas specials, they did three Easter ones as well. This one, narrated by Burl Ives as a rabbit rather than a snowman, uses traditional animation instead of stop-motion, which I think makes for a less appealing product. Oh, well. The back story here is based on The Velveteen Rabbit, with a kid (here a girl, oddly named Glinda, instead of a boy) coming down with scarlet fever and her mother burning her possessions, only for her stuffed rabbit to be magically transformed into a real one.
The transformation is done by a fairy named Calliope, who looks kind of like Rainbow Brite.
The bunny is tasked by Santa Claus with finding a valley near the North Pole that a magical golden Easter lily keeps in eternal spring, which is to be his new home as, well, the first Easter Rabbit. He’s accompanied by a group of three other bunnies who are low-level thieves, but are pretty easily convinced to turn to the good. The villain is an ice wizard named Zero, who keeps the polar region covered in ice and snow. He looks similar to the Winter Warlock from Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, and really, how many winter makers does Rankin/Bass need?
Anyway, Zero wants to freeze over Easter Valley as well. He manages to sneak in with his pet snowball Bruce, but Santa threatens to leave the Arctic if Zero doesn’t leave the valley alone, in a scene reminiscent of his shaming Professor Hinkle in Frosty the Snowman. Apparently Santa’s secret weapon is guilt. The special is once again narrated by Burl Ives, this time as an older version of the titular character, who sings the Irving Berlin song “Easter Parade.” Paul Frees again does a lot of the other voice work, along with Stan Freberg and Daws Butler. Glinda’s voice is presumably done by a kid, and she doesn’t put much emotion into her lines.
Here Comes Peter Cottontail – This one is stop-motion, and is narrated by Danny Kaye, playing a magical inventor and peddler named Seymour S. Sassafras, sort of a less sinister Willy Wonka. After the commercial breaks, he repeats the last line that was spoken, which is pretty redundant when you’re watching it without commercials. Anyway, Colonel Bunny (also voiced by Kaye) is retiring, and wants to appoint Peter Cottontail, who’s creative and enthusiastic but also lies a lot and isn’t entirely reliable, to be his successor. Peter is voiced by Casey Kasem. The villain of the piece, January Q. Irontail, voiced by none other than Vincent Price, is a rabbit who lost his tail when a kid roller skated over it, and had it replaced with, well, an iron one. He wants to be Head Easter Bunny so he can spread chaos and meanness, and points out to the Colonel that, according to the rules, whoever delivers the most eggs gets to be the ruler of April Valley. Is this the same place as Easter Valley? it’s not addressed. Peter throws a big party the night before Easter and sleeps through the whole day, Irontail’s tampering with his rooster alarm clock not helping matters. And since Irontail is so mean, he’s only able to give away one egg, but he still wins by default. I guess none of the other bunnies want to be in charge, as the rules make it sound like anyone can participate, and there have to be better options than a well-meaning screw-up and a guy who wants to watch the world burn. Anyway, Peter leaves the valley in disgrace, and Irontail comes up with a bunch of nasty ideas. Chocolates in the shape of spiders and octopuses do sound pretty cool, though. Peter meets up with the narrator, who just happens to have a time machine, and offers to give the rabbit a do-over.
It doesn’t quite work out, though, as Irontail’s henchbat tampers with the controls, and instead Peter and the French caterpillar pilot Antoine are sent to one holiday after another: Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s. I guess the writers didn’t think this would ever be shown outside the United States. Reasoning that the eggs don’t have to be delivered on Easter, Peter and Antoine keep repainting the eggs to rebrand them for different days, but lack of interest, Irontail’s attempts at sabotage, and Peter’s repeated failure to keep his guard up get in the way. He eventually does shape up and unload the eggs, but I’m still not sure he has the right qualities for a leader.
The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ to Town – This is largely a reworking of Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, right down to being narrated by Fred Astaire’s mailman character, who explains the origins of various Easter traditions. Needless to say, it’s not consistent with The First Easter Rabbit. You only did three of these, Rankin/Bass! How hard would a little continuity have been? This is probably the best of the three, though. And oddly enough, despite all the connections to the earlier Christmas special, this is the only one of three where Santa doesn’t show up to help his fellow holiday host. The story starts out in a place called Kidville, inhabited entirely by orphan children. The kids find an abandoned baby bunny and raise him, giving him the name Sunny. When Sunny grows up, he decides to take some of the eggs laid by a trio of singing chickens to the neighboring Town, only to find the way is blocked by a bear named Gadzooks, who’s kind of like the Abominable Snow Monster from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
I have to say I really like his design. He ruins all the holidays, but he’s eventually won over when Sunny and the kids give him a new outfit.
The bunny also befriends a hobo, Hallelujah Jones, who becomes the only adult to live in Kidville, and nobody seems to think that’s a little creepy. Our equivalent of the Burgermeister Meisterburger is Dowager Duchess Lily Longtooth, the aunt of the boy king, who bosses him around and makes all the laws herself, including making everyone in Town eat nothing but beans. Since this was a kids’ program from the seventies, this didn’t lead to any flatulence jokes. Like Kris Kringle in the earlier special, Sunny has to find ways to sneak into town and win over the people, inadvertently leading to some traditions. Hallelujah gathers some workers to build a railroad between Kidville and Town, and they recruit a rusty locomotive named Chugs, who sings a blues song with the chickens on backup. They fix him up, but all of his other lines are short repeated phrases. I get that they’re going for a Little Engine That Could thing, but it’s kind of annoying. When the Duchess’ attempts to thwart Sunny and company all fail, the Bunny wins her approval by naming a flower after her, leading her to hint at unspecified trauma in her youth. And apparently everything people now do on Easter started in this one obscure town.
Peter and the Magic Egg – This one is sort of a long commercial for Paas egg dye, but there is an actual story to it. It takes place in Pennsylvania Dutch country, even though the dye was invented in Newark, New Jersey. Ray Bolger narrates in the character of a talking egg with an Amish-style beard. It starts with a poor farm couple in debt to a cyborg. Originally Tobias Toot, he became rich through automation, bought up the bank and the nearby town, and had his body replaced with metal, becoming Tobias Tinwhiskers.
I don’t think the characters are actually Amish, but they’re kind of adjacent to it, so I guess the anti-machinery stance goes along with that. The couple finds an abandoned baby who turns out to be the magical Peter Paas, a boy who grows up quickly and gives clothes to the farm animals that give them human characteristics.
The four main ones are a rabbit, a duck, a turtle, and a lamb, who were the Paas mascots for a while. Apparently now only the former two are on the packages.
Paas also has some miraculous connections, and manages to get the farm a contract to supply the Easter Bunny (who’s only ever seen in shadow) with eggs. Tinwhiskers tricks Peter into falling into a hole and seriously injuring himself, but the animals receive an egg from Mother Nature that hatches into a sort of comedian duck, called a Kookibird, who makes everyone laugh, curing Peter and turning Tobias back to flesh. This duck isn’t particularly funny, but I guess you have to round up in Amish country. It’s interesting that the farmers never actually ask for magical help; they seem to receive it just because they’re good people and hard workers who need it. I guess a lot of fairy tales work that way, though.
The Berenstain Bears’ Easter Surprise – I remember seeing this one as a kid, but it didn’t stick with me that much. Beth pointed out that it’s kind of wacky compared to the books (as was the Thanksgiving special), but I think some of the earliest Berenstain Bears books had more silly slapstick, often with Papa’s overenthusiastic clumsiness being to blame. They developed over time into being more about problems child readers were likely to face. While there are explicitly Christian books featuring the Bears these days (from what I’ve heard, those are the work of Stan and Jan’s son Mike, who took over writing and illustrating the series), this special was kind of pagan. The Easter Bunny has to do his thing in order for winter to change into spring, and he’s tired of it.
The Bunny’s son is a friend of Brother’s, so they go to convince him to change his mind, but what actually does so is a rainbow. Kind of anticlimactic, really. As for the titular surprise, Sister is born on Easter, and I don’t know offhand whether that’s consistent with the books. They still call the young bear Brother throughout, even when he isn’t one, although the pre-Sister books called him Small Bear. I also couldn’t say whether Papa’s middle initial being Q is mentioned anywhere else.