We know what you Shelfers have been asking for- and we intend to deliver. It's time for a look at Animated Easter Specials.
Growing up as a little kid in the 1970s meant seeing Primetime animated specials in their heyday. Old pros like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and some others had been around for a while - but even more were being produced in the 70s. So you had not only the standards, but new classics coming out almost every year. The bulk of the Easter animated specials were made during the 70s and into the early 80s.
While some contend that primetime specials fizzled out by the early 80s, the production of new specials and the promotion and airing of specials continued to be strong well into the late 80s. The mid 80s saw new specials from Garfield, some new Peanuts specials, Fat Albert, Looney Tunes, and some Disney specials (also using old cartoon footage with new bridging animation or live action). For example, Garfield's Halloween Special premiered in the 1985-86 season - and the year before Disney produced a primetime special celebrating Donald Duck's 50th Birthday. The end of the era truly came in the late 80s through the early 90s when less and less primetime slots were allocated during the holidays for animated specials. New specials were rare- networks preferring to re-air specials for which they already owned the rights to air. New specials appeared occasionally, but usually in the form of a special using either a daytime or syndicated series (such as Tiny Tunes or a "special" holiday episode of The Simpsons).
Here is a short list (minus straight-to-video titles) of Primetime animated Easter specials produced during the 70s and early 80s. There were also the occasional "special episode" of a syndicated cartoon series- but those are for another list. Here are the shows you might have seen (and seen again) on some night during the week of Easter Sunday. What follows are brief highlights of a few of the specials that are real classics:
1971: Here Comes Peter Cottontail (Rankin/Bass)
1974: It's The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (Lee Mendelson-Bill Melendez Productions/ Charles Schulz Creative Associates/ United Features)
1976: The First Easter Bunny (Rankin/Bass)
1980 Daffy Duck Easter Special (WB/De-Patie-Freeling)
1982 The Smurf's Springtime Special (Hanna Barbara) and Fat Albert's Easter Special (Filmation)
Here Comes Peter Cottontail
Rankin Bass pretty much ran through the gate with Here Comes Peter Cottontail. Based on a book, the special tells the story of Peter's efforts to win the right to be the Chief Easter Bunny. Told through RB's stop-motion "ani-magic", Here Comes Peter Cottontail features wonderful voice work and a classic story. Danny Kaye stars as the narrator Sassafrasrass and Peter's allies, Colonel Bunny and Antoine. Casey Kasem is our hero, Peter and Vincent Price plays his rival, Irontail. Rankin Bass vets Paul Frees and Joan Gardiner are also featured. Peter races through the holicalendarnder trying to give away more Easter eggs than the nasty Irontail so that he can earn the right to be Chief Easter Bunny. This one is a little different in that it doesn't concentrate on Easter the Holiday - Peter actually cycles through everything from Halloween to the Fourth of July. Danny Kaye is great and you stop thinking - "hey, that Rabbit sounds like Casey Kasem" about 10 minutes into it and just focus on the story. Excellent special which should be on your Shelf, and it has just been reissued on DVD this year. You most likely find it being pushed with a new animated feature movie Peter Cottontail- The Movie, which is being touted as a sequel of sorts. It appears to be CGI, but I can't give any other details, because I haven't seen it. You are on your own - but let us know in the comments section if you have seen it and tell us what you think. Here Comes Peter Cottontail is very recommended.
It's the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown
Last week we took a brief trip to 1975. Let's go back for a brief moment shall we? The television season of 1974-75 saw the debut of several great primetime animated specials, three of them in particular were animated and produced by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelsen and premiered on CBS. They were: Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus, Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, and It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown . I love 'em all- and I wish I could find Virginia on DVD. Needless to say It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown is a classic- and I'm sure you are not surprised that we would have that opinion. What really sets it apart for me is that it is a trip reverse kind of Great Pumpkin. All of the gang are worried about getting things ready for Easter, but Linus reminds them that they don't need to worry- the Easter Beagle will take care of that. You would think that having just been dealt a devastating blow by the whole Great Pumpkin fiasco that Linus would've been ostracized by the rest of the crew. But no- they tolerate him and his "quirks" as a lovable group of friends should. Were they not worried that Linus would wig out on them some day and invent some elaborate scenerio in which he invites them all to a deserted mansion at the top of a spooky hill for a reunion, in which he secretly plans to cut off all communication, block all exits and roads and then kill them off one by one for laughing at him and his "quirks" while they were kids? Did they? I don't think so- but then, this was the 70s, peace, love and whatever makes you happy man. Darn you, hippies! Guess what though- Linus turns out to be right! Sweet revenge! Speaking of Hippies, Peppermint Patty and Marcie have a great role in this special (the first to include them by the way). Patty attempts to teach her "friend" Marcie how to dye eggs - and Marcie does everything to those eggs but hardboil them. It was the first time I heard belly laughs out of my kids when they were watching a Peanuts special scene that didn't involve Snoopy. Do yourself a favor - go get the DVD. It also has a bonus special, It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown (Charlie Brown was not stupid- why did he need constant reminding of when the holidays were coming?). It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown is highly recommended.
Bugs Bunny's Easter Special
Bugs Bunny's Easter Special. Believe it or not, this was the first Looney Tunes "Holiday" themed special. This pretty much set the standard for most of them, and was one of the better produced as it was primarily done by Friz Freeling and his studio. The special had Granny trying to find a replacement for an ailing Easter Bunny. Various Looney Tunes characters are recruited as Granny goes through the Warner's Studio either encountering characters working or screening their work. This is a device that bridges the footage from old cartoon shorts with new animated sequences. Fairly standard Holiday Looney Tunes fare, but when you are a kid and you love Looney Tunes anyway, you don't need much encouragement to love it. By the way, at the end it is revealed that Daffy was the Easter Bunny in disguise all along. That Daffy! It is doubtful that this show will ever see DVD, which is a shame because it would be nice to have the bridging sequences. If you can find it, Bugs Bunny's Easter Special is recommended.
The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town
Along with It's the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown, this is my favorite. This Rankin- Bass classic follows in a similar vein to their popular Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. In fact, Fred Astaire reprises his role as The Mailman from that film to, yet again, answer kids questions about our Holiday favorites. He tells us the story of Sonny, the first Easter Bunny and how many of the Easter traditions we love today were invented. Everything from Jelly Beans to dyed eggs, Easter suits and Easter parades are explained. The story follows Sonny as he is found and raised in a town comprised of just kids, called (of course) Kidsville. Sonny tries to trade off some of the eggs (laid by singing hens with southern accents no less) in a nearby kingdom, but meets a problem in the form of a egg pinching bear named Gadzooks. With the help of a hobo named Hallelujah Jones, Sonny and kids come up with clever ways to get past Gadzooks. Do I need to stop and alert you to the fact that the only adult present in Kidsville is a hobo? I think not- I will let the obvious jokes percolate on your own brain. (Hey, you gotta help a little!) Once Sonny makes it to the the nearest town called Town (the writers were very busy that year) that had no children except one, the King named Bruce. G'Day Bruce! One problem- while Bruce likes Sonny and wants him to bring all his Easter goodies, the real iron fist behind Bruce is his Aunt Lily Longtooth, who makes Bruce do everything she says and wants things just so. I think you can figure out where everything leads. We've got Easter eggs and Jelly beans after all! The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town is out on DVD and is recommend.
Well - that's it Shelfers- stay tuned for more Shelf madness!
Some Easter Beagle! He gave me my own egg!