Friday, April 29, 2011

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

Premiered April 4, 1971
"Don't be so depressed, Peter. When you are depressed, it's gets to be very...depressing!."
-Seymour S. Sassafras
Narrator Seymour Sassafras (voiced by Danny Kaye), a peddler of "magic and moonbeams" begins by telling us of April Valley, home of all current and past Easter Bunnies. Chief Easter Bunny Col. Wellington B Bunny (also voiced by Kaye) is retiring and has designated Peter Cottontail (Casey Kasem) to be his successor.  His advisors don't think Peter is a good choice, but Wellington says Peter reminds him of his younger self.

Peter has one glaring flaw: he tells fibs. Whenever he tells fibs, his left ear droops. Another bunny named January Q. Irontail (Vincent Price) objects to Peter's appointment and wants to "rule" April Valley as Easter Bunny. Irontail hates children, because a child skated over his tail, he now wears a tail made of iron.  He hates Easter and all its trappings.  When he takes control of April Valley, Irontail plans to cancel Easter forever.  Wellington holds a ceremony where he declares Peter the new Chief, and presents him with the official basket of the Easter Bunny.

Irontail shows up and tells them the constitution of April Valley states the chief bunny will be the one who delivers the most eggs.  He challenges Peter to a contest:whoever delivers the most eggs will be the new Easter Bunny.  Peter accepts the challenge, Wellington agrees, telling Peter he must win to save Easter.
The night before Easter, Peter parties with friends, until very late at night.  He stumbles to bed, setting his alarm-rooster to wake him up at 5:30 am.  Irontail and his pet bat Montresar show up and give the rooster bubble gum.  This causes his beak to be stuck closed, so the rooster is unable to wake Peter in time.  

Peter sleeps all through Easter.  Irontail is only able to give away one egg, but that's one more than Peter.  Irontail wins the contest and takes over April Valley.
Easter is canceled forever, eggs will now be colored "the color of mud."  Chocolate bunnies will be replaced by tarantulas and octopi.

Peter is ashamed of himself.  His irresponsible behavior allowed Irontail to win. Peter walks for miles until he collapses & falls asleep. When he wakes up, Peter finds himself in the Garden of Surprises.  Turns out the Garden is run by Sassafras.
He offers Peter the use of his time machine, the Yestermorrowbile, piloted by Antoine the Caterpillar (Kaye yet again). It has buttons for every holiday, pressing them takes them to Christmas, Easter,etc. Peter can use it to travel back in time and beat Irontail in the egg delivery contest.

They set off, but Irontail sees this and sends a spider flunky to sabotage the Yestermorrowbile, which causes a crash that damages the controls.  Peter and Antoine can no longer choose which Holiday to visit, they just end up on random Holidays.
Along the way, Peter runs into an old friend from April Valley, Bonnie, a talking Easter Bonnet, who joins his quest.  He also meets a bunny named Donna on Valentine’s Day. They are smitten with each other and go on an ice skating date.

While they’re skating, Irontail steals the eggs, and proceeds to dye them green.

Will Peter Cottontail figure out a way to regain the eggs and become the new Easter Bunny?

J.A. Morris says:
This is the best of Rankin-Bass’ three Easter specials. The presence of Vincent Price’s voice alone makes it worth watching, and Casem provides a good voice for Peter.  In some ways, it’s “The Mother Of All Rankin Bass Holiday Specials”, since we see Peter visit virtually every Holiday.  I think the songs are all pretty good & memorable.

The music and songs by Maury Laws are as good as anything he’s done.  Kaye does a nice job voicing multiple characters, and Kasem delivers a solid performance in the title role.  During the Christmas segment, Santa Claus makes a cameo, voiced by Paul Frees (who voiced him in several other Rankin-Bass specials).

Most of the Rankin-Bass specials feature "Celebrity Narrators", but this is the only time I can think of where the narrator interacts with the protagonist, making it unique.  And of course, there’s a strong nostalgia factor, for people who grew up in the 70s.
But I do have one quibble:
We learn early on that Peter is sort of irresponsible and has a bad habit of telling fibs.  He parties too late on the night before Easter. But he doesn’t oversleep on Easter JUST because he’s irresponsible and stays out too late.  He oversleeps because Irontail sees to it that his alarm clock rooster is unable to wake Peter on time. So, it’s not all his fault that he loses the contest, since Irontail had to cheat to win. The lesson about “responsibility” falls a little flat here.
At least during the Valentine segment, Donna tells him he should be forgiven, because anyone can make a mistake.
The muddy lesson is the only thing that keeps this special from getting a 4-Easter Egg rating. 

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 and a half Easter Eggs.

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