Easter-Theme Movies and ‘Toons

Back in the days when we used to rent videos from video stores, the employees would put together recommendation racks, often based upon a particular or timely theme.  Netflix recommendations just cannot recreate that experience: all of that enticing cover art at hand to be grasped and perused. Nor can I, but I’m giving it a shot anyway.

I realize movie-watching at home is not the same now as it was then: a group of friends lounging on the couch with a feast of snacks for a double-feature. Our idea of multi-tasking was dipping a chip while listening to dialogue and even that frequently required rewinding. It may be that the whole idea of watching a whole movie is becoming extinct. So many of my students tell me, “Yes, I’ve seen The Godfather. Well, parts of it, anyway.” Ouch.

Just in case there is anyone out there who still watches movies, and enjoys exploring uncharted territory, I figure holidays are a good excuse to turn to things you might ignore otherwise (like your relatives).

I do realize that Easter is not the most popular holiday, and that intellectuals and cinephiles typically shun the whole resurrection-rabbits-chocolate eggs business. However, I’ve interpreted the “Easter” theme very loosely here, as you will see. Some films merely feature a rabbit in some way — some morbid way — so Easter-haters will find plenty here with which to celebrate as well.

FEATURE FILMS

Who Framed Roger RabbitWho Framed Roger Rabbit (Zemekis, 1988)

Beloved and yet under-appreciated, WFRR is a landmark of film history for many reasons. Equal parts film noir and animated romp across Los Angeles, Hollywood and animation history, it’s an apex of pre-digital cinematic wizardry. It also amazingly combines animated characters from Disney, Warner Brothers, MGM, and the Fleischer Studios. [Trailer / Making-Of short]

Harvey (Koster, 1950)

Jimmy Stewart plays a blissfully serene alcoholic whose best friend in a 6’4″ rabbit no one else can see… most of the time. What’s not to love?Marvelous (Oscar-winner) Josephine Hull is hilarious as his sane but hysterical sister who is continuously embarrassed and socially undone by the rabbit’s “intrusions.” It’s light comedy on the surface, but the implications are actually, somewhat grey. [Trailer]

Watership Down

Watership Down  (Rosen, 1978)

Richard Adam’s brilliant and dark novel (1972) about a community of rabbits torn apart by modernization and the group of survivors that quest forth to re-establish a home is no tale for tots. This brave animated feature adaptation remains faithful to the novel in all of its brutal beauty. [Trailer] If you thought rabbits were just fluffy and harmless, think again. These bunnies muster courage and engage in violence on par with any human epic. For an adolescent Guillermo de Toro it was a revelaton.

easterparadeEaster Parade (Walters, 1948)

Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ann Miller being deliciously wicked, and Peter Lawford at his most debonaire. It’s a top notch MGM musical, with glorious costumes, charming dance numbers (sample: “A Couple of Swells” with Garland and Astaire as tramps). Yes, I know Astaire was much older than Garland, and one does find it a little hard to believe she would pass over young Lawford in his favor, but they really do have chemistry of a type. This was perhaps because, in terms of experience, they were both old Hollywood veterans who were, by this point, complete masters of their craft.

donniedarkoDonny Darko (Kelly, 2001)

The fantastic poster for this film sort of says it all: deadly, scary, rabbit-guy. Except this is not your average horror film. In it a disturbed teen (Jake Gyllenhaal), living in John-Hughes-esque 80s suburbia,  sees a 6-foot rabbit that might be imaginary (sound familiar?), commits crimes, and experiences time travel. [Trailer] Even if you can’t quite follow the plot, it’s a beautiful nightmare of nostalgic yearning — as if the film, like the protagonist, wants to go back to the 80s to fix the millennium. That, in fact makes the film prescient as it came out before 9/11 lead to an even darker era. If you’re confused after you’ve seen the film, you can check out this explanation of its tangent universe (and get even more confused).

nightoflepus

Night of the Lepus (Claxton, 1972)

B-for-bunny Movie horror! Giant killer bunnies, heck yeah! [Trailer]

 

bunnylake

Bunny Lake is Missing (Preminger, 1965)

Laurence Olivier and Keir Dullea… that’s not all that’s weird here. I have to admit, while I adore Preminger, I want to like this film more than I actually do. It is in glorious black-and-white Panavision with a swingin’ London backdrop and a remarkable title sequence by Saul Bass. Plus Preminger himself narrates the trailer — somewhat ominously, if you ask me!

curse_wererabbitWallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Box, Park, 2005)

Wallace the cheese-loving, bachelor inventor and his world-wearily-wise pooch, Gromit are up to their ears in rabbits this time out (their first and only feature). If you aren’t already familiar with them, the painstaking and creative stop motion of award-winning Aardman Animation is top notch and a joy to behold.  [Trailer] (Great double feature with “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.” See below)

Monty Python and the Holy GrailMonty Python and the Holy Grail (Gilliam, Jones, 1975)

Nothing like revisiting the crusades in honor of Easter, especially the crusades via Monty Python, complete with killer bunny. “That rabbit’s dynamite!”

ILL-USED BUNNIES

If you’re on a perverse Peeps sugar high, these films have nothing to do with Easter or even rabbits, except that they feature some very ill-used bunnies at key points in their twisted tales.

repulsion

Repulsion (Polanski, 1965)

Beautiful, virginal Carol (Catherine Deneuve) turns out to be, ahem, unstable in this incredibly disturbing psychological thriller by young Roman Polanski (his second feature). If I tell you about the rabbit, you won’t watch it, so I won’t. Here’s Criterion’s page with the trailer plus some nice essays on this creepy gem.

WMWH_AgnesWhat’s the Matter with Helen? (Harrington, 1971)

Set in the 30s, Debbie Reynolds spoofs herself as a dance teacher to Shirley-Temple-wannabes, Shelley Winters is an unbalanced bible-thumper (who keeps rabbits), and Agnes Morehead cameos as an ersatz Amy Semple MacPherson! Wait, there’s more…

fatalattaction

Fatal Attraction (Lyne, 1987)

Well, since I include Repulsion, I can’t overlook this film with its featured, misused rabbit.  It’s a hoot watching Michael Douglas and Glen Close chew up the scenery in this cautionary tale of adultery. [Trailer] For giggles, I’d make this a double-feature with Behind the Candelabra which has nothing to do with Easter, except that the wardrobes are candy-colored.

BIBLICAL EPICS

I usually say, “I never met a genre I didn’t like,” but I have to confess (pun intended), I’m am not a fan of the biblical epic. Having said that, one day I will subject myself to a “screening series,” and try to warm up to them. When I do, I will start with the following:

Greatest Story Ever Told

The Greatest Story Ever Told (Stevens, 1965)

This all-star cast is preposterous: Max Von Sydow, John Wayne, David McCallum, Shelley Winters, Martin Landau, Angela Lansbury, Sidney Poitier, Pat Boone, and Ed Wynn all in the same film — the same biblical film! It’s may not be a great film but it’s a hoot of Hollywood history, with George Stevens at the helm. [trailer]

The_RobeThe Robe (Koster, 1953)

The first CinemaScope with Richard Burton as a Roman soldier who heads the unit that crucifies Jesus and wins his robe in a dice game. Also starring Jean Simmons and Victor Mature. [trailer/rent]

Ben Hur

Ben Hur (Wyler, 1959)

William Wyler in MGM-65, widescreen, color — ’nuff said! [trailer]

TV/SHORTS

herecomespeterHere Comes Peter Cottontail (Rankin-Bass, 1971)

If you grew up in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, you know well the Rankin-Bass, stop-motion animated holiday specials that aired annually on network television. The christmas specials, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” are still rerun. However this often overlooked, slightly trippy, 70s rabbit tale is quirky fun as well. Vincent Price as the evil January Q. Irontail who flies around astride his bat, Mon Tresor, and who, when he becomes head bunny, tries to ruin easter with chocolate tarantulas is worth your time alone. The pre-Nightmare Before Christmas plot has Peter time-traveling through the holidays trying to give out eggs. Add narration by Danny Kaye, and Casey Kasem as Peter, and its a treat… like Peeps. [Complete Film on YouTube]

If you like that one, check out this list of “Forgotten Easter Specials from Your Childhood” courtesy of Buzzfeed, which includes the Fat Albert Easter special, Bean Bunny of the Muppets, and many more!

easteryeggs “Easter Yeggs”(McKimson, 1947) Looney Tune short

Why not just have a Bugs Bunny film-fest of your own for Easter? That’s what the Aero Theater in Santa Monica does annually to a sold-out house. “Easter Yeggs” features Bugs taking over for the falsely exhausted Easter Bunny. Mayhem, of course, ensues.

Funny Little BunniesFunny Little Bunnies (Disney, Jackson, 1934) Walt Disney Silly Symphony

As with all of the Symphonies, this short sports sumptuous animation in rich detail, and endearing characterizations as a small army of bunnies prepare Easter baskets, candy and eggs. Adorable.

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