As a special treat for Easter Sunday, I thought I’d do a “retro review” of Rankin/Bass’ 1977 stop motion animated television movie The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ to Town.
Now, I’m a big fan of the output that Rankin/Bass has produced, particularly their enduring Christmas specials that CBS, ABC, and Freeform consistently replay multiple times every December. But until I stumbled upon this specific program accidentally while surfing the internet a few days ago, I forgot that the famous stop motion animation producers had delved into the mythology of Easter. Upon eagerly sitting down to watch it, I began to have vague recollections of seeing it at some point in my past, and when the end credits rolled, I figured out why I had blocked it from memory.
The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ to Town is, at best, a complete rip-off of Rankin/Bass’ 1970 classic Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, and at worst, a horrible money grab.
Like the Christmas special that this film so desperately tries to intimidate does for Santa Claus, this Easter movie intends to serve as an origin story for the Easter Bunny. It even goes so far as to use the same opening, with stock news footage of kids around the world preparing for the upcoming holiday (although this time instead of Christmas, it’s Easter) and brings back the mailman from the Christmas classic to narrate this story – S.D. Kluger, once again voiced by Fred Astaire. Children are curious by nature, so like with Santa Claus, they constantly write letters to the Easter Bunny, which Kluger delivers to him, in which they ask hard-hitting questions such as “Why do we color eggs at Easter?” “Where’d the Easter Bunny come from?” “Why does he hide eggs?” “Who made the first chocolate bunny? And the first stuffed toy? And why?” “Why does everyone get new clothes at Easter?” “Why are Easter flowers called lilies?” etc. The special sets out to explain the answers to all of these questions within this fifty-minute origin story, but unfortunately, the answers are just not compelling. Maybe because the mythology of the Easter Bunny isn’t as fleshed out as Santa Claus’, but there is never a moment within this special where I thought, “Oh, so that’s why he does that!” like I do every time I sit down to watch Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. That’s a huge problem, and one that I believe could have been fixed with better writing.
Make no mistake, the writing of this special is downright lazy, which is a disappointment considering Romeo Muller – who wrote the Christmas special seven years prior – returned to pen the script. There’s a feeling while watching the movie that Muller used search and replace on the Christmas script because this film shares many similarities to the earlier special, right down to character roles. Sunny the Easter Bunny plays the role of Kris Kringle and the kids of Kidville are inserted in place of the Kringles; King Bruce is the stand-in for Jessica, while Lily Longtooth is the replacement for the villainous Burgermeister Meisterburger; even the lovable sidekicks are present, though a hobo named Hallelujah Jones and a grumpy bear named Gadzooks replace Topper the penguin and the Winter Warlock. The plot pretty much follows the same exact story laid out in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, right down to eggs being outlawed and the Easter Bunny becoming a criminal for delivering them.
The writing goes beyond laziness, however, (though it’s impossible to overstate how lazy it actually is – could Muller truly not take five more minutes to come up with a better name for a town full of children than “Kidville”?) it’s just downright bad at times. None of the many songs within the special even come close to hitting the heights of the tunes within its predecessor, nor are they memorable in the slightest. In addition, none of the characters have motivation that explains why they’re doing what they’re doing, including the Easter Bunny, who only embarks on his mission to deliver eggs in order to create a viable and sustainable trade model for Kidville – no joke! It’s extremely bizarre.
It’s not just the writing that does the film a disservice though, the overall production of the special isn’t up to par of the quality that audiences have come to expect from Rankin/Bass movies. Visually speaking, it’s underwhelming. The colors are more muted, which is an odd choice considering how bright colors are normally associated with the holiday of Easter and springtime in general, and it looks as though money was saved by reusing the old Sombertown set from Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town rather than building a new, distinct set from scratch in which to utilize. In addition, the environment and character designs are stiff, and lack the charm and magic that Rankin/Bass captured so well in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and The Year Without a Santa Claus.
The most egregious sin of this movie, however, is the fact that it lacks heart. A staple of Rankin/Bass specials is the emotional core embedded within the stories and embodied by their characters. This has absolutely none. You’re not rooting for any of the characters, nor are you invested in what happens to any of them. Had the filmmakers imbued the characters with charm and heart, it’s very possible that The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town could have overcome its lazy script, but unfortunately they didn’t.
Look, I’m aware that this movie was written for children – I’m not expecting a script on par with The Godfather or something – but the scripts for previous Rankin/Bass movies weren’t perfect either. They were, however, good, which is why those specials continue to endure to this day; and when I say endure, I mean to the point they’re played multiple times a year within the final two months of the year, not once annually around Easter like this movie is.
Despite the fact that I think this is a bad film, I would recommend people revisit it with one caveat – have a few beers and watch it with a group of friends. It’s one of those movies that, if you’re watching it with enough people, is fun just because of how bad it is and how much enjoyment you can get out of mocking it. I’d also recommend watching it with your kids if you have any, because I’m sure they’ll glean a certain amount of enjoyment from it. (Though, like myself having originally seen this film as a child, I doubt they’ll grow up to hold this film as dear to their hearts as they will the many other Rankin/Bass holiday specials that exist.)
What do you think of The Easter Bunny is Comin’ to Town? Do you have fond memories of watching it as a child? Do your current kids like it? Leave me a comment below and let me know! And have a Happy Easter!