Over the centuries, the leaders of the christian church have made a habit of screwing around with the calendar in order to piggyback their own holidays on top of popular and long-standing Pagan holidays, quietly co-opting the symbolism and rituals in the hopes of eventually diluting things to a point at where people forget all about that silly, heathen nonsense. If they could somehow arrange to target the Pagan symbols directly at stupid children so people take them less seriously, all the better.
Most of the time it worked like a charm. That’s why at Christmas we have trees and Yule logs and Santa and so many repurposed carols. Nobody even bothers to ask what the hell a Yule log is anymore. Something to do with Jesus, apparently.
When it came to Easter, though, they got even sneakier than usual. At first you might say:
“Easter is a celebration of the resurrection and the life, an affirmation of our faith and confirmation of the forgiveness of our sins. So what the fuck is the bunny with the eggs doing in there?”
Well in Pagan terms the coming of spring was marked by a celebration of rebirth and fertility. So the whole “rebirth/resurrection” thing is pretty clear and as for fertility, well, we don’t say “fucks like a bunny” for nothing. And nothing fucks like a bunny quite like a bunny, so there you go, right? But of course Church leaders couldn’t just leave it there, a symbol of unbridled whoop-it-up fornication alongside Jesus rising from the dead like that. It’s…unseemly.
So what they did, see, is turn that horny rabbit into a Surrogate Jesus. Call him the Easter Bunny (instead of, say, Sammy Spermshooter), target him at the kids and all your troubles are over. The Easter Bunny/Surrogate Jesus travels the world handing children chocolate images of himself (an ersatz communion, see?) and brightly colored hardboiled eggs (as, I dunno, maybe some obscure anti-abortion message) and though you may not save any 6-year-old souls, you’re at least prepping the little bastards for what’s to come.
Which brings us to the message of Here Comes Peter Cottontail. For years Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. had been mining beloved holidays for new and subtle ways to mess with kids’ minds with their creepy animated specials,. I thought Rudolph was bad enough, but with Peter Cottontail they really outdid themselves.
Here’s the set-up: All the Easter bunnies/Surrogate Jesuses live in April Valley, where the chief Easter Bunny (voiced by Danny Kaye) is getting ready to retire. He wants to finger Peter Cottontail (the inescapable Casey Kasem) as his successor, but a wicked, Satanic rabbit named Irontail (Vincent Price) wants the job too and suggests a challenge: whoever delivers the most eggs on Easter gets the job.
Irontail, see, has hated children ever since one little fucker in roller skates severed his tail, forcing him to wear a prosthetic. He only wants to be chief Easter bunny so he can exact revenge. Even seeing this as a kid when it first aired I admired and respected Irontail. His reasoning made sense to me then and it makes sense to me now.
Anyway, Peter (as the Christ figure here) is at once lazy and burning with ambition. He desperately wants to be chief Easter Bunny for reasons that aren’t clear beyond simple power whoredom. Yet ambitious as he is, the night before Easter he has a wild and drunken Last Supper that goes on until all hours and as a result sleeps all through the big day. So fair and square mind you, in a perfectly democratic fashion, Irontail wins the appointment by handing out a single egg.
During his inaugural speech he announces that from that point on, instead of chocolate bunnies and chicks, they will be distributing chocolate tarantulas and octopuses. Why? Because he’s not a goddamn CANNIBAL, that’s why! When I was a kid, the chocolate tarantulas were something else that put me decidedly in the Irontail camp. Communion symbology aside, I always thought it was weird the Easter Bunny would want us to eat versions of him. And tarantulas were cooler.
Now Peter/Christ, upset that he (fairly) lost the competition and the appointment, does what any normal Son of God would do: he cheats.
With the assistance of a primitive time machine piloted by a worm named Antoine, Peter/Christ and his eggs travel clumsily back in time in an effort to re-live Easter and win the appointment.
As they bounce from holiday to holiday through the calendar, Antoine sings to Peter/Christ: “People believe what their hearts tell their eyes/So if you can’t get it all together, improvise.”
Has there ever been a more lucid or accurate summation of faith? This is why people see the Virgin Mary in cheese danish and the image of Jesus on the sides of barns. So Peter/Christ starts to lie as well as cheat, by misrepresenting his eggs at each stop as Mother’s Day eggs, Fourth of July eggs, and Christmas Eggs. Forget about that whole “whoever hands out the most eggs on Easter” rule; he’s going to win by whatever means necessary. He’s the Son of God, dammit, and he can do whatever the hell he wants.
Along the way he suffers through the Passion, Rankin/Bass style: he’s rejected at every turn, he’s pelted with his own eggs, he’s robbed, he’s tormented by witches and then he’s rejected some more. But does he learn anything as a result? Is his spirit purified?
His only friends along the way are Antoine and that other co-opted symbol, Santa. Not only does he not thank Santa after the old man saves the day, he ignores Antoine’s cries for help and abandons him in the snow in his mad rush toward ascension. What a lousy fucking piece of lapine shit he is. Beyond that, at every turn he leaves the eggs unprotected so they can easily be stolen (repeatedly) by Irontail or one of his minions, so he’s a big fucking idiot too, as well as a liar and an ingrate.
He finally wins of course (it’s the Bible after all) when Irontail turns all the eggs green and Peter/Christ hands them out to drunks on St. Pat’s Day.
He lied without gumption, he cheated, he stole an election Irontail had won fair and square, but he got the power he wanted. In the final scene of Here Comes Peter Cottontail, Easter arrives again meaning it’s time to deliver eggs and chocolate communion to all the children of the world (well, the Christian ones anyway). When the time comes for Peter/Christ to hit the road and get to work, he insists that everyone in April Valley come along and help him, because he’s a big, fucking, lazy asshole on top of everything else.
And that’s what Easter is all about.