Perhaps owing to its underlying religious solemnity (and its lame secular holiday hero), Easter doesn’t have as deep of bench of animated specials like Christmas or Halloween. There’s the Peanuts special of course (and wouldn’t most of us just as soon as see the Easter Beagle replace the Easter Bunny?) and a couple of Rankin-Bass efforts, but after that, things get thin enough that the dedicated fan of seasonal shenanigans probably will at some point find herself watching the basket of smelly eggs known as A Family Circus Easter.
The Family Circus has a pretty consistent track record of spawning some of the worst examples of holiday specials you’ll ever ruin your day off work watching. Its Christmas special really can’t even be recommended to anyone under 18 due to its frighteningly blasé portrayal of mental illness while A Special Valentine with the Family Circus heads in the opposite direction with a coma-inducing tale of kids making a big valentine for their little brother, the only moment of interest for the audience when the family dog wrecks the valentine (in artsy-fartsy slow motion no less)!
It only makes sense then that the Easter installment of the series would merely be a bad dye job of that February-themed fiasco (responsible adults behind the scenes surely stepped in to make sure the crazy Christmas disaster wasn’t repeated), but swapping out the valentine construction for a rigged Easter egg hunt and somehow tricking music legend Dizzy Gillespie to play the Easter Bunny.
Opening during the family coloring Easter eggs, for the first time in the entire series, you begin to understand why the father suffers the depression that was on such dramatic display at Christmas as he has to listen to his brood prattle their nonsense about mailing eggs to grandma and dying jelly beans. By the time the kids proudly announce they have captured the Easter Bunny in the backyard and conclude the episode by placing an egg in the church collection basket, you wonder if he stays after the service to find out from his preacher what his church’s opportunities are for becoming a eunuch and joining a cloistered priesthood in the Himalayas.
But dad’s miserable existence is just an accidental subplot. The real story here is Dolly’s special op mission to imprison the Easter Bunny so he doesn’t make her baby brother PJ feel bad about sucking at Easter egg hunts. Obsessed with coddling PJ and ensuring that he will grow into an entitled loser who blames everyone but himself for his shortcomings, Dolly is determined to make sure the eggs hidden for the hunt are placed in plain sight so that PJ can find them. Her siblings go along with the plan, but what if old Peter Cottontail himself shows up and screws the pooch by using his rabbity expertise to hide them so a 2 year old can’t find them?
Great leaders make the hard decisions and so it is that Dolly announces they will all get up really early Easter morning, recon the backyard, and trap the Easter Bunny until after the egg hunt is over and PJ feels really good about his staged victory. But those us who served in the special forces or watch lots of movies about the special forces know that what really makes a great leader is how they react when the mission goes totally FUBAR.
First, one of her own men, brother Jeffy, turns traitor and steals all the eggs that PJ was supposed to find, then their POW escapes and invades their house! Once again demonstrating that he really is the only member of the Family Circus worth a squirt, Barfy the dog gamely goes into the house to flush out the rabbit. That he gets chased out of it for his troubles and is humiliatingly forced to go down a slide by the rabbit is beside the point since all the humans were seemingly paralyzed that a harmless rabbit was in their house.
And if it all seems to be over rather quickly, it apparently caught the filmmakers by surprise, too because for no reason other than to add an extra five minutes to things, there is the patented Family Circus animated special fantasy sequence (or as well-adjusted folks refer to it, a disturbing hallucination) tacked on where the Easter Bunny is singing and dancing about hiding eggs. What makes it truly punishing is that the song, the nauseatingly catchy “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t” keeps being replayed in your head long after the scene finally ends.
In spite of the recycled ho-hum plot, valuable lessons are learned. Like socialism never works. Dolly forcibly redistributing the Easter egg wealth is marked by unhappiness from both haves (Jeffy) and have nots (PJ) not to mention the imprisonment of dissidents (the rabbit). We also get our first hint that mom may be just as miserable as father as she refers to her “high school box” when retrieving an egg decoration, showing an unwillingness to completely let go of a past when she wasn’t suffering the soul crushing burden of four clueless brats, two dogs, a cat and a husband who could decide to reenact his favorite scenes from Fatal Vision at any moment.
But we would never find out what else was in her high school box or whether dad ever sought treatment for his mental illness or if PJ ever was allowed to succeed or fail on his own because this was the last animated Family Circus special, the unpleasant combination of uninspired plots, insipid, unsympathetic characters and creative decisions that always backfired (did each show have to have a terrible song performed against a backdrop of some nightmarish fever dream?) finally putting it (and more importantly the audience) out of its misery.
© 2018 MonsterHunter