Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971)

While the first Rankin/Bass Easter special can easily be hailed as a surrealistic fever dream whose avalanche of eye-popping moments (Peter Cottontail dressed up as turkey, a spider flying in a rocket, a group of caterpillars wearing body paint that resembles the American flag), if they don’t exactly captivate a surely confused audience, at least give you reason to stay awake through the narcoleptic songs that litter Here Comes Peter Cottontail like so many unwelcome rabbit pellets, it is the introduction to constitutional law it gives children that really provides viewing value for do-gooder parents who demand cartoons be educational instead of fun.

With the impeding retirement of the reigning Easter Bunny, Colonel Wellington B. Bunny, a replacement rabbit needs to be selected. Peter Cottontail is tabbed for the job, but just before he can be sworn in, the villainous Iron Tail appears waving around the constitution of April Valley, demanding the procedure for appointing a new Easter Bunny be followed. It states that whomever delivers the most eggs gets to be the new Easter Bunny. Despite it being obvious how evil Irontail is (he is nefariously voiced by Vincent Price after all), to paraphrase a great man, no rabbit is above the law and no rabbit is below it.

Peter knows that if Irontail somehow wins, all will be lost because Irontail has a grudge from way back when his tail was injured by a child and he was forced to replace it with an artificial metal one. Young and ambitious and realizing that the stakes have never been higher, Peter is determined to win at all costs. So the night before Easter, Peter throws a gigantic party and stays up way too late, then sleeps right through all of Easter, losing the competition because Irontail managed to deliver a single egg! Peter’s overconfidence was pretty much the rabbit version of not bothering to campaign in certain districts in Wisconsin. Whoops! Who knew, right? Looks like its four years of Make April Valley Great Again!

After letting everyone down, Peter does the only honorable thing and slinks away out of town until conveniently collapsing from exhaustion in the garden of Seymour S. Sassafras, the local weirdo who provides April Valley with its colors.

When he’s not growing oddly hued cabbage that must surely have been fertilized with toxic waste, he’s also building a handy-dandy plot device to enable Peter to attempt to undo the installation of Irontail. No, it’s not a special prosecutor empowered by the Deep Rabbit State to do an end round around the April Valley constitution. It’s something even more powerful than a grand jury subpoena: Time machine, bro. Comes with its own French caterpillar pilot, too.

The plan is so simple, only the laws of physics and common sense should be able to stop it! Take Sassafras’s Yestermorrowmobile back in time to Easter, deliver a few eggs, overturn the previous results and bang! The establishment candidate for Easter Bunny wins! Is it any wonder that when Irontail gets wind that he’s about to be cheated out of his ill-gotten victory (full disclosure – while Peter did party and stay up too late, Irontail sabotaged his alarm clock with magic bubblegum) he sends his pet spider out to trash the time machine in mid-flight! What follows is Peter crash landing in almost ever single holiday except Easter!

This brings up the second (and even more important) lesson on constitutional law. While the constitution is clear that whomever delivers the most eggs wins, it is silent as to when those eggs must be delivered. Irontail and his supporters no doubt will argue that the founding hares intended those eggs be delivered on Easter only since it makes no sense that we would pick an Easter Bunny by his or her ability to hand out eggs on Super Bowl Sunday for example.

Peter and his liberal allies argue for an expansive reading of that provision, correctly stating that there is no limiting language when or even how those eggs must be delivered. If he can trick some local rubes into taking his Shamrock Eggs on St. Patrick’s Day, that’s sufficient to meet the minimum requirements imposed by the April Valley Constitution. If the Framers intended to limit the time period, they could have written it into the amendment, but they didn’t, thus they had no intention to constrain the time period to only Easter.

The most important lesson children will learn about the Constitution and how it’s interpreted and applied to a given set of facts is that it all depends on who is in power and what result they want. Colonel Wellington wants Peter to win, so no one questions the validity of Peter’s St. Patrick’s Day egg delivery. In retrospect, can you blame an outsider like Irontail for being paranoid that he was going to get screwed by a system controlled by entrenched special interests and thus felt forced into being proactive in battling Peter every step of the way?

Here Comes Peter Cottontail succeeds as a bizarre combination of civics lesson and avant-garde entertainment, throwing more and more Constitutional-related insanity at you as it hops along down that deranged bunny trail. Price’s gleefully evil portrayal of Irontail is perfect while Casey Kasem lending his voice to Peter is epic because it sounds like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo has possessed Peter Cottontail’s body.

Peter’s misadventures in a succession of different holidays should keep nostalgic fans of these Rankin/Bass Animagic specials captivated as he meets Santa, dresses up like George Washington, tries to trick kids into taking his eggs on Independence Day claiming they are torpedoes, rescues a depressed, talking Easter bonnet on Christmas, and even has time to hook up with a lady bunny on Valentine’s Day. By the time the French caterpillar reappeared at the end of the show and was a psychedelically colored butterfly while Irontail was reduced to working for the Sanitation Department, I was checking my egg dye to see if it had been spiked with some hallucinogenic substance!

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