When I went on a hunt for the Rankin & Bass Easter special I watched as a kid, I was confused when I bought Here Comes Peter Cottontail and it felt like it wasn’t everything I remembered. I soon learned that was because this 1971 special was Rankin & Bass’s first of two attempts to tell the tale of the Easter Bunny! In 1977, Peter was replaced by The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ To Town!
HERE COMES PETER COTTONTAIL (1971)
Danny Kaye gets the stop-motion treatment as the narrator of Here Comes Peter Cottontail. As always, many familiar voices from the other Rankin & Bass holiday classics are back, as well as Casey Kasem as Peter! They should have called him Peter Shaggytail….
In this story, a successor is needed to be the Easter Bunny. So Peter and the evil bunny Irontail, voiced by Vincent Price (awesome), compete to see who can deliver the most eggs. Shaggy—I mean—Peter parties the night before and oversleeps. Which means Irontail will automatically be the new Easter Bunny!
Not if stop-motion Danny Kaye has anything to say about it. He hooks Peter up with a flying time machine piloted by a talking worm. They set off to redo the day of the race, but get set off course and land in every single holiday of the year with Irontail in hot pursuit to stop them.
My personal favorite is Halloween. Even Vincent Price seems at home, as Irontail makes a comment about how Halloween is his scene before summoning a witch. But when Irontail finally steals Peter’s eggs, it’s up to Santa Claus to get them back. Seriously? Santa, you have so many Rankin & Bass specials of your own! Not to mention, he’s voiced by Burgermeister Meisterburger instead of Mickey Rooney!
You’ll never believe how it ends. Hint: it involves Danny Kaye singing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”
In retrospect, Here Comes Peter Cottontail is virtually the same exact plot as Rankin & Bass’s time travel holiday special Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.
THE EASTER BUNNY IS COMIN’ TO TOWN (1977)
And that would make The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town a replica of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Not just because they have the same title. It feels nice and familiar with the return of Fred Astaire as the mailman answering the questions of little boys and girls (even referencing his comeback).
On top of that, the story structure is the same. A bunch of kids in Kidville find an orphaned bunny and raise him as their own (hare raising?). They call him Sunny. When he’s old enough, he sets out over a mountain to tell other towns about the poor orphaned children. On the mountain is not the Winter Warlock, but a mean bear named Gadzooks.
He comes to a small town where there isn’t a “no toys” rule…there’s a “no kids” rule! However, the king himself is a seven-year-old boy. Unfortunately, his mean Aunt Lilly calls the shots and won’t let him do his job. So once Sunny the bunny brings around eggs and stuff, she’s not having it!
Like Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town explained many holiday traditions, this one forces in the origins of everything—eggs, jelly beans, hiding eggs, Easter clothes, Easter parades, Easter toys, Easter lilies—but manages to leave out Easter bonnet! However, there’s a talking Easter bonnet in Here Comes Peter Cottontail.
Instead of a honking penguin, Sunny the bunny ends up getting assistance from the little train that could. Eventually, when the train has to, he can, but throughout the story, he says everything in “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” repetition mode. I imagine I might have found that amusing and not annoying as a kid….
The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town is a more traditional Rankin & Bass holiday special that focuses exclusively on Easter, and it’s also much brighter and lighter than the dark edged Here Comes Peter Cottontail. It isn’t however, as memorable as Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town and neither are the songs. The only good one is the title song—and no, it’s not sung to the melody of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. It’s an original.
Both of these Rankin & Bass holiday specials have their moments, but they really are not the classics that all the Christmas specials have become. Perhaps that’s just because Christmas is SO the better holiday.