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The First Easter Rabbit: Remastered Deluxe Edition DVD Review

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Special & DVD Details

Producers/Directors: Arthur Rankin, Jr., Jules Bass / Writer: Julian P. Gardner

Voice Cast: Burl Ives (GB), Robert Morse (Stuffy), Stan Freberg (Flops), Paul Frees (Zero, Santa Claus), Don Messick (Whiskers, Doctor Jonathan), Joan Gardner (Elizabeth, Calliope), Dina Lynn (Glinda), Christine Winter (Vocalist)

Songs: "There's That Rabbit" (words & music by Irving Berlin), "Easter Parade" (music: Maury Laws, lyrics: Jules Bass)

Original Air Date: April 9, 1976 / Running Time: 25 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French; Not Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: February 16, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Shiny, Embossed Cardboard Slipcover

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While the names Rankin and Bass are widely known and celebrated, I would estimate a good 75% of the TV animation producers' canon to be completely unfamiliar to the general public. Included in that number are nearly all the television specials centering on holidays that aren't Christmas or the New Year. In that class are three Easter specials. Of those, I'd say there's a fair chance you've seen the first (1971's Danny Kaye-narrated Here Comes Peter Cottontail) and at least heard of the last
(1977's The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town' with Fred Astaire). In between them is the lesser-known cel-animated program we look at now, The First Easter Rabbit.

Premiering nine days before Easter Sunday 1976, The First Easter Rabbit enlists Burl Ives in the celebrity singer-storyteller role that was a Rankin/Bass standard. That tradition began with the company's first and still most famous stop-motion show, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), which Ives hosted/narrated as Sam the Snowman. Here, the jolly performer voices a similar-looking goateed anthropomorphic rabbit named GB.

First Easter Rabbit is partly inspired by Margery Williams' renowned 1922 children's book The Velveteen Rabbit. The special uses that story as framework supported by the typical Rankin/Bass interests: origins of traditions, bold, quirky characters, and weather.

Host and narrator rabbit GB bears more than a little resemblance to his voice, Burl Ives, and Ives' previous Rankin/Bass persona Sam the Snowman. Stuffy gets some help from ultimately harmless con bunnies Spats, Whiskers and Flops. (I'm not sure which is which and after watching this, neither will you be.)

The show opens on a Christmas of the past, as a young girl named Glinda receives a stuffed rabbit doll in her stocking from her mother. Though Glinda's unemotional voice raises doubt, she claims she loves the doll, who she names Stuffy. Soon after, Glinda comes down with scarlet fever. Per the house call-making doctor's orders, all of the girl's clothes and toys are to be burned, even the beloved Stuffy.

Before he can be torched with the other possessions, Stuffy is visited by Calliope, a fairy who turns beloved playthings real. Not only does Calliope save the doll from combustion and give him life, she appoints him the first Easter rabbit, who will serve to remind people of the holiday with customs like egg-dyeing and egg-rolling.

With Easter just two weeks away, Stuffy must journey to Easter Valley. En route, he runs into Spats, Whiskers and Flops, a trio of vocabulary-wielding "con bunnies", who offer to help him find his destination. That destination is also of interest to Zero, an icy North Pole warlock of sorts. Zero and his large snowball companion Bruce have long been looking for the secret road into Easter Valley, the only area in sight they haven't been able to cover with snow. Also turning up to assist Stuffy and his new pals in their quest for the golden Easter lily are a whistling yellow bird and Santa Claus, who's simply being neighborly during his off-season.

Because it might not feel like Rankin/Bass without a cranky producer of cold, we get Zero and his snowball sidekick Bruce. We also get a random appearance by a rosy-cheeked Santa Claus, who's apparently a neighborly handyman after the Christmas season passes.

The First Easter Rabbit plays out similarly to other Rankin/Bass cartoons, only in an animation medium more commonplace for television. A theme song, "There's That Rabbit", is repeatedly reprised, sometimes by Ives and sometimes by the familiar company chorus.
Other Animated Easter DVDs:
At a cheery climactic scene, Irving Berlin's relevant "Easter Parade" gets performed by characters, and then Ives and chorus. Filling only a half-hour of airtime, the special doesn't have time or interest for tangents, subplots, or secondary characters. That's fine, though, because what is offered possesses the qualities of the better Rankin/Bass creations. It is charming, funny, and spirited, in mild but agreeable ways.

On the Tuesday after Valentine's Day, First Easter Rabbit finally made its DVD debut. It comes to disc now less in response to fan demand than to Warner Home Video wanting to add to its kid-friendly Easter season retail presence. The release is dubbed a Remastered Deluxe Edition, but that is not to distinguish it from an earlier edition, because once again, this is the only DVD release this special has received to date.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Per its original and intended specs, The First Easter Rabbit is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen and monaural sound. Both picture and sound are quite satisfactory. The former is clean, sharp, and almost completely lacking any of the source flaws you're often likely to find in television animation this old. The Dolby 1.0 soundtrack delivers all of the dialog, effects, and music zestfully. You won't mistake this for being anything but a 1970s television cartoon, but recognizing that, one can't really ask for more.

If simple virtual puzzles are your thing, then perhaps you will be one of the few not disappointed by this "Deluxe" Edition's bonus features. Where have I seen the main menu's picture of Stuffy before? Oh yeah, the DVD cover.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

It's all too easy to question the "Deluxe" part of the DVD's moniker upon seeing the scant extras offered here. All we really get are three interactive puzzles (the case claims there are six). You fill in each puzzle one piece at a time, navigating to find the blank that matches the highlighted piece.
When finished, each 6-piece puzzle comes to life and shows a 25-second First Easter Rabbit excerpt beginning with the depicted image. The young viewers who might be amused by such an exercise may very well lack the remote control dexterity needed to play.

The second listing is simply an ad for the Remastered Deluxe Edition DVDs of both Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown and It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. A short teaser for Scooby-Doo!: Abracadabra-Doo plays at disc insertion.

Occupying a mere 1.29 GB of data, this is one of the lightest DVDs I've encountered from a major studio. There was ample room to include another special (heck, all three Rankin-Bass Easter specials would be cozy on a single disc with space for extras).

The DVD doesn't even include scene selection among its three static menus. They place characters against a groovy outdoor backdrop, with the main menu playing a bit of score. And, before you can ask, the only Easter eggs are the cursors themselves.

Looking far snazzier than it should, the DVD's Eco-Box keepcase is packaged in a reflective, redundant foil slipcover embossed on all four sides.

Calliope the fairy, a briefly-seen deus ex machina, saves Stuffy, turns him real, and appoints him the first Easter Rabbit (not to be confused with the Easter Bunny?). With Glinda in a pink bonnet and Stuffy come to life, the time is right for an Easter parade!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The First Easter Rabbit is an enjoyable entry in the Rankin/Bass oeuvre. It's not outstanding enough to be bothered that it seems to have been forgotten by time. But its simple charms aren't far from the ones offered by Rankin/Bass specials that have been exalted to timeless television treasure. Even so, releasing it on its own with no consequential company makes this Remastered Deluxe Edition feel more than a little quaint. We're long past the days of 25-minute children's videocassettes and the list price here is about three times this technically sound but featherweight disc's worth. While I think Rankin/Bass fans should try to see this taut, underappreciated minor treat, I'd be so much more apt to recommend it as part of a hypothetical Easter specials collection than here by itself.

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Easter Bunny Costumes

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Reviewed March 25, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1976 Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc. and 2010 Warner Home Video. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.