It takes a certain kind of contempt to unload garbage on the world and pass it off as children’s entertainment. As a group, kids are less discerning about what they watch, simply because they haven’t seen enough to make informed decisions about what’s good and what isn’t. Which makes the existence of Rankin-Bass’ 1976 special The First Easter Rabbit even more heinous.
Some people who didn’t know better at the time thought it was a classic . . . which is why Warner Home Video has reissued it on DVD for the season. Unfortunately, nostalgia can’t save this special from wooden performances, sloppy pacing and wince-worthy dialogue.
Burl Ives Stars in Rankin-Bass/Warner Home Video’s The First Easter Rabbit
Burl Ives narrates this origins tale, which blatantly rips off – sorry, is inspired by – Margery Williams’ classic novel The Velveteen Rabbit. A little girl named Glinda (Dina Lynn) gets a toy bunny for Christmas, which she immediately names Stuffy. However, Stuffy (Robert Morse) longs to become a real live rabbit.
When the toy gets tossed in the trash, a fairy appears, telling Stuffy that her mission is “to turn all good toys into real” (that’s a direct quote). After transforming Stuffy into a live rabbit, she decides that he must become the symbol of Easter . . . because there isn’t one yet.
(Some Jewish guy hanging on a cross is currently asking, “What am I, chopped liver?”)
A flying mutant chicken (you can’t make this up) escorts Stuffy to Easter Valley, a place where it’s always spring, and just up the road from Santa’s workshop. However, Easter Valley’s existence irks the evil Zero (Paul Frees) who wants to cover everything in snow. Will Stuffy thwart Zero’s dastardly machinations and bring Easter to all the little boys and girls? Will Santa somehow get involved? Will Irving Berlin rise from his grave and hunt down the fools who allowed Rankin-Bass to use his song ‘Easter Parade’ for this catastrophe?
When evaluating Rankin-Bass’ output, here’s a good mantra: if it’s stop-motion, it’s usually worth watching. If it’s animated, beware. This rule makes The First Easter Rabbit instant cause for concern. Ironically, the animation is one of this special’s high points. It’s typical for 1970’s fare: the movements are stiff and the lack of shadows makes every character look like they’re floating over the backgrounds, but it’s no worse than anything Hanna-Barbera was doing at the time.
Typically for Rankin-Bass, the tunes are the best thing about this special. However, the producers over-expose ‘Who’s That Rabbit,’ using it at least 3 times within half an hour: once over the opening credits, then twice for back-to-back montages.
To say this script is badly written is an understatement. Characters change their motivation at the drop of a snowflake, while plot points are mentioned and don’t go anywhere. The Amazing Coincidental Machine™ and Deus Ex Machine Gun get trotted out so often that they overheat and turn the story into mush near the three-quarter mark.
Then there’s the voice acting. Lynn says lines like “Oh thank you, Mummy! I love him, I love him!” like she’s reciting multiplication tables for the 13th time. Ives brings his usual warmth and charm to the role of the narrator, but even he can’t make up for the lousy script.
The First Easter Rabbit DVD Extras
Warner Home Video has digitally remastered this special to improve the animation and sound, and it does look clean and crisp for 1970’s animation. The only real extra feature here – other than the trailers – is an interactive game, where you move pieces to assemble 6 puzzles based on the characters.
Warner Home Video’s The First Easter Rabbit: Avoid! Avoid!
This is one holiday chestnut that should never have been reissued. The First Easter Rabbit gets a 1/5, and that’s generous.