Well, another Easter has come and gone, along with it’s commercials and TV specials. To me, most Easter Traditions have always seem to have been made up at random, nothing set in stone as an actual tradition shared by everyone else. From having to hunt down your toys and candy Easter morning, to the total Santa knock-off “picture with the Easter Bunny”, to the bizarre ritual of dyeing eggs and then hiding them in the yard. Because, as everyone knows, kids love them some hard-boiled eggs! Although as perplexed as we all may be this time of year, I think a much better example of how confused people can become by Easter is the Rankin/Bass Claymation Special “Here Comes Peter Cottontail”.
You get the feeling the big wigs at Rankin/Bass decided they needed an Easter special to round out the collection, and only gave the writers one day to slap it together. And slap they did. It seems that instead of simply writing a holiday special, they took every special ever made; melded them together, and created a giant mutant special! For those of you who may not understand the ways of anthropomorphic rabbit storytelling, I’m going to break it down for you. So ladies and gentlemen, for my first real entry on my blog dedicated exclusively to cartoons from the eighties and nineties; I bring you . . . a cartoon from 1971!
Our story begins in typical R/B fashion with the introduction of the narrator. This time our storyteller is in the form of a crazed, traveling color salesman voiced by Danny Kaye. Before telling his story, he demonstrates his awesome control of the dark arts by actually changing the color of the world! He then gives us a glimpse through his magic black egg, at the rabbit infested world of April Meadow. We are introduced to our hero Peter Cottontail, the heir apparent to the current Easter Bunny and (King?) of April Meadow. Peter is everything that you would want in an Easter Bunny. His two most outstanding character traits are that he constantly brags about himself, and he is a pathological liar. In a way that is not at all like Pinocchio; whenever Peter tells a lie, he has an obvious physical flaw (the drooping of his left ear) that immediately reveals the fact that he is lying. Peter is about to be given the ceremonial basket when out from the shadows steps the villain, a strange looking, evil and handicapped rabbit named January Q. Irontail. He lost his real tail in a horrible and graphically depicted bicycle accident and has since been forced to make due with a fake tail made of . . . anybody? Iron!
Irontail challenges Peter (played wonderfully by Scooby Doo’s Shaggy) to some kind of wacky duel where you race to see who can give away the most eggs in one day. The night before the race, Peter goes on an all night bender and has to rely on his Flintstones-style alarm clock which is a regular wind up clock and a chicken that sits on his windowsill. The chicken reads the clock, and then wakes him up. Apparently, April Valley has yet to harness the technology of the bell. While Peter is asleep, Irontail cheats by OF COURSE giving the chicken a kind of chewing gum that is specifically designed to sabotage chicken alarm clocks. Therefore Peter sleeps through the day and loses the race to the tortoise….I mean, Irontail. In disgrace, and leaving the village he loves in the hands of a ruthless disfigured false king, Peter leaves the Pride Lands hoping to one day redeem himself. 30 minutes later, he runs into the traveling color salesman who give him his time machine airplane piloted by a talking caterpillar with a strong French accent. They plan to go straight back to Easter and give away eggs like nobody’s business.
Unfortunately, Irontail get his monstrous hell-beast to sabotage the plane and now Peter has to fly aimlessly through the Calendar stopping in separate worlds that are each dedicated to a specific holiday. And to those of you that didn’t see the Archipelago of Last Years in Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, this idea will seem totally new. At every stop, he lies to people while his insect friend follows him around and tries to keep him on the straight and narrow. Let me say again that Peter is nothing like Pinocchio.
So now Peter has to travel to different holidays, painting his Easter eggs and trying to pass them off as some kind of other holiday-specific egg. He goes to Halloween World and gives an egg to a witch. He goes to Mother’s Day Town and gets a guilt trip. And he goes to 4th of July Town and almost gets beaten up by two little kids. Thanksgiving Town is my personal favorite. He prepares to offer Thanksgiving eggs to a family who has just finished their meal at their beautiful dining room table which is, of course, in their front yard. (interior shots are hard after all) I believe this scene best represents the entire rest of the movie. Peter begins to tie down his ears and put feathers on his tail when his worm friend asks, “What are you supposed to be? An Easter turkey, or a Thanksgiving rabbit?” To which our hero replies… “Who cares as long as I can give away these eggs!” This is obviously the writers’ way of asking, “Where on earth are we going with this“?
Where they are going next is Christmas Town, where Peter dresses like Santa Clause and tries to give hard-boiled eggs away on a street corner in the middle of the night. Amazingly, he doesn’t have any takers. The sound of crying leads him to a hat store where a talking hat is alone in the window. No one wanted the hat because it is an Easter bonnet in Christmas Town, and is therefore a misfit. I think there is also a bird that swims like a fish and a charley-in-the-box in the store too, but that might have a been another show… Peter makes a deal to purchase that hat for a basket of eggs, which you will find that most of your higher-end hat stores will do, and has to leave quickly because the evil bunny has stolen said eggs. Peter leaves so quickly, in fact, that he leaves his pet caterpillar crying cold and alone on the sidewalk below. As Irontail tries to get away, Santa Claus uses his festive Christmas sleigh as a weapon, knocking his flying monkey-bat creature out of the sky. Peter recovers the eggs and continues on his journey. He makes a side trip to Valentine’s World and ice skates with a girl bunny. They sing a song about how they are going to love each other for just one day. It looks like there is about to be some serious rabbit-on-rabbit action when unbeknownst to them, Irontail show up to sabotage the eggs!! He wants to stop Peter from giving the eggs away once and for all and the best way he can think of to do this is to turn them completely green. It is unclear whether Irontail is aware of just how easily eggs can be smashed, but I guess that’s not important. In the aftermath, Peter offers his foxy lady a green egg, and just like that the relationship is over. She begins crying because I guess green eggs are a terrible insult to her people. He leaves yet another unfinished storyline in his wake and heads off to St. Patrick’s Day Land. While no one else in all of time and space wanted his eleven-month old eggs, they sell like hotcakes in St Patrick’s day Land because as you know the Irish will eat anything. I hoped that in this part of the film they would take the opportunity to explain the connection between hard-boiled eggs and beer to me but I was horribly disappointed. So he dumps the eggs, returns home to rule over April Meadows, and I don’t remember exactly but I’m pretty sure they publicly-executed Irontail. And as we have all apparently been waiting for, the French caterpillar returns as a butterfly!
As crazy and mixed up as this movie is I do have to say that it is one of my favorite Rankin/Bass Cartoons, if for no other reason than the fact that it can be described as; Shaggy, a bug and a talking hat use the power of Saint Patrick’s Day to battle an evil, physically-disabled rabbit for control of Easter! You might ask, “Did people actually like this? What does it have to do with Easter? Why did they have to incorporate so many other Holidays?”
...Who cares as long as I can give away these eggs!