Judge Clark Douglas thinks every Easter special needs to find a way to include Santa Claus.
The beautiful tale of how Easter became hoppy as well as happy!
The vast majority of people in America enjoy celebrating Christmas and Easter, but how they go about celebrating the holiday often depends largely on their personal beliefs. While these holidays are filled with spiritual meaning for many religious individuals, others choose to bypass the religious elements and enjoy a more secular celebration. Christmas is a season loaded with memorable, much-loved stories on both sides of the fence: those celebrating the birth of Christ have the Nativity Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and The Little Drummer Boy, while those who prefer not to involve religion have 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Frosty the Snowman. Everybody wins! However, when it comes to Easter, there's really no well-known secular alternative to compete with the whole "Death and Resurrection of Jesus" story.
The First Easter Rabbit represents a valiant attempt to remedy that situation. Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. were responsible for the wonderful television adaptations of several of the aforementioned Christmas classics, and they hoped to give The Easter Bunny (a well-known but very poorly-defined mascot for secular celebrations of Easter) a memorable story of his own. While the effort is a charming and pleasant one, The First Easter Rabbit is an unfortunately derivative tale that serves as a demonstration of just how terribly difficult it is to create an effective story about a bunny who delivers colorful eggs to children.
Our story begins by introducing us to a young child named Glinda (voiced by Dina Lynn), whose favorite toy in the whole wide world is a stuffed rabbit (aptly named "Stuffy"). Alas, Glinda has grown ill with scarlet fever, and the doctor says that all of her toys must be burned. However, just before the toys are to be burned, Stuffy is rescued by a magical fairy who transforms him into a real rabbit. Yes, I can see some of you waving your hands in protest. This is indeed the exact manner in which the classic story The Velveteen Rabbit begins. I suppose the logic went something like this: "We're trying to make a much-loved classic story involving a rabbit…The Velveteen Rabbit is a much-loved classic story that involves a rabbit…hey, let's just borrow some of the best bits from that! We can't lose!"
After Stuffy is brought to life, the tale wanders off in an entirely different direction. Stuffy is informed that he has been selected to be the very first Easter Rabbit. His job will consist of existing and hopping around to remind people that spring has arrived. Additionally, he will somehow incorporate some dyed eggs and egg-related activities into his work. So, before Stuffy begins his task, he has to take a trip to the legendary Easter Valley. And where is Easter Valley located, you ask? Brace yourself: it's located smack in the middle of the North Pole. Yes, it's the one place in the entire North Pole in which it's always spring and never winter. It also turns out that this Easter Valley is Santa Claus' favorite hangout when he's not busy getting ready for Christmas. Yes, Santa Claus is a major character in a story called The First Easter Rabbit (yet another indication that Christmas is loaded with secular icons while Easter is not).
Anyway, Santa Claus isn't the only noteworthy resident of the North Pole. It's also home to a scoundrel named Zero, a sort of ice-wizard who wanders with his pet snowball Bruce attempting to cover absolutely everything in ice and snow. The only area he is unable to cover is Easter Valley, which is protected by a magical golden flower. The special spends a lot of time covering Zero's villainous plotting and scheming, but when he actually attempts to take action he's shut down faster than you can say, "Wait, what?" This leads into a scene more or less directly lifted from Frosty the Snowman, in which a victorious Santa Claus (voiced by Paul Frees, who also voiced Santa in Frosty) delivers a smug "Screw you" speech to the sniveling villain in which he threatens not to give the baddie any nice things for Christmas.
Frankly, the story sort of loses focus of poor Stuffy at times and becomes a sort of vague "Battle of the North Pole," but eventually Stuffy manages to get around to doing his Easter Rabbit-y duties and leading everyone in a glorious Easter Parade (along with a performance of the song "Easter Parade," which is just about the only Easter song anyone knows). It's all very pleasant and inoffensive stuff, but one can't help but shake their head at how unfocused and absurdly derivative The First Easter Bunny is. Oh, did I mention the fact that Burl Ives narrates and sings in a manner that directly mimics his work in Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer? I can only shake my head and smile.
It should be noted that the production is slightly less impressive on a technical level than some of the earlier Rankin/Bass productions, featuring animation that's less smooth and fluid than what we saw in Frosty the Snowman (all the more pronounced given that Santa and the little girl in this special look exactly like the Santa and little girl from that special). The songs are fine but not particularly memorable (the only striking tune is "Easter Parade"). The voice work is solid for the most part, with the grating exception of Dina Lynn as Glinda. Lynn delivers her lines in a flat, monotone manner that makes me wonder how on earth she was ever cast in the role.
The image is sharp and clean, as the special has been remastered for this disc. The colors are bright and vibrant, scratches and flecks are nowhere to be found and the audio is clean and clear. Props to the folks at Warner Bros. for making the film look good, but they fail in the supplemental department. Surely some additional shorts or specials could have been included on the disc with this 25-minute feature? Nope, just a handful of menu games for the kids.
While The First Easter Rabbit is an innocent little special, it fails in its attempt to create a memorable story about the Easter Bunny and fails to live up to the magic of earlier Rankin/Bass specials. Too bad.
The special itself isn't really guilty, but this release is.
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