Warner Bros. remastered this 1976 animation, "The First Easter Rabbit," to good effect, so if you have very young children in the family, it might make a pleasant addition to the home library. What's more, it may not only appeal to youngsters but to nostalgic adults who grew up with it, or to even older nostalgic adults like me who grew up with singer-actor Burl Ives, who sings and narrates the story.
Burl Ives is the fellow who started his career singing folk songs in the late Thirties and Forties and then took up acting along the way, becoming a major film star as Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and winning a Best-Supporting Actor award for "The Big Country," both in 1958, while still recording dozens of hit songs and albums. Here, he assumes the role of the story's narrator, an old rabbit, and also gets several good tunes to perform.
The film, co-directed by TV cartoon veterans Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr., is reminiscent of Margery Williams's 1922 children's classic "The Velveteen Rabbit," wherein a child's stuffed rabbit becomes real through the power of love. Here, the story goes a bit further. A little girl (Dina Lynn) receives a stuffed rabbit for Christmas, a toy she names Stuffy. She wants more than anything for the doll to be real, and one night a fairy godmother type named Calliope (Joan Gardner) answers her wish. Shades of "Pinocchio." But that's not all. The time frame is the late nineteenth century, and it seems there is no Easter Bunny. What? No Easter Bunny? Why, Easter needs a rabbit the way Christmas needs a Santa Claus, no, to give out presents? At least that's the way the movie has it. And guess who the prime candidate is for the bunny's job?
Never mind that both Europe and America already had a tradition of the Easter Bunny firmly established hundreds of years earlier than the setting of the movie. This is a Hollywood production, after all, where anything can and probably will happen. Not only does the movie have one question its origin story, it also makes us question the dubious premise of needing an Easter Bunny (or a Santa Claus) in the first place. In the bigger scheme of things, I suppose it's easier to market chocolate Easter rabbits and jolly old fat men in red suits than it is to push merchandise related to religious beliefs. Fortunately, the film's got an appealing message of love and giving that overcomes its blatantly materialistic tone.
However, not content with merely recounting the purely fabricated origins of the Easter Bunny, the movie also has a subplot involving an evil creature named Zero (voiced by Paul Frees, the wonderful voice talent who did hundreds of vocal characterizations in movie and television cartoons and radio and television commercials dating back to the early 1940s). Zero is intent on turning Easter Valley, the only spot in the North Polar region that's eternally spring, into snow and ice. Santa, on the other hand, is intent on keeping Easter Valley green and teaching Stuffy and his friends a lesson in giving.
This is all quite a lot, really, to cram into a twenty-five minute story. Nevertheless, the animation style filmmakers adopt is kept quite simple, in keeping with the simple nature of the story; it's almost like a child's drawings, with only occasional background paintings showing touches of watercolor-pastel detail. Moreover, the film includes the voice talents of actor/singer Robert Morse ("How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying") and humorist Stan Freberg ("John and Marsha," "Looney Tunes"), plus Burl Ives singing "There's That Rabbit" and Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade." You can't ask for much more than that.
Warners present the film in its original television broadcast ratio, 1.33:1, and the video engineers remastered both the picture and the sound to the best possible advantage. However, they did not do a shot-by-shot restoration, so one observes a small degree of age deterioration in the form of occasional specks, flecks, and lines. All the same, the colors are so rich, strong, and vibrant and the delineation so sharp, any minor age spots are hardly noticeable.
The audio is a simple 1.0 monaural, so don't expect a lot from it. Still, it's good, clean, quiet mono, so there's nothing to grieve over, either. No, it doesn't open up to the rear channels, not does it even spread out to the front stereo pair, yet, like the video, it's so very clear, it doesn't matter.
There's nothing much in the way of extras beyond a series of menu-based jigsaw puzzles for kids. Since they're pretty easy to work out, it's obvious WB aimed them for kids of an early age. In addition, you get a trailer at start-up for a "Scooby-Doo" cartoon and within the menu a trailer for a "Peanuts" Valentine special. In addition, you'd find English as the only spoken language; French subtitles; English captions for the hearing impaired; and an embossed slipcover for the keep case.
I hate to end by throwing a wet blanket over so sweet and affecting a little cartoon as "The First Easter Rabbit," but when you consider that it's only twenty-five minutes long and it's the only selection on an entire DVD (that retails for around fifteen bucks), it may seem like a mighty expensive proposition. If you can get over that minor snag, though, the film is undoubtedly good, wholesome fun for the youngest members of the family.