Arthur is an avid television and movie fan with horror being his favored genre. If you can name it, he has probably seen it. Twice.
I am a child of the 80s, so I look back at classic TV specials with great nostalgia. I have written in the past about other holiday specials, and with Easter coming up I thought now would be a great time to remember the great holiday specials from the '90s and before. Though the Easter special was nowhere near as big as Christmas or Halloween, or even Thanksgiving for that matter, there have been a few great ones over the decades. I hope that I can introduce a new generation to these great Easter shows as well as reminding some kids at heart about their childhood.
1. Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail
Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin made an entire career out of holiday specials with a style so unique you know in an instant that they were the minds behind them. Though they are known mostly for their Christmas specials, they had a few others as well including Here Comes Peter Cottontail.
The story has a Tortoise, and the Hare feel to it as Peter is in a contest with the Evil Irontail to become the head Easter Bunny. Peter is so confident that he will win that he stays up all night partying, and with a little help from Irontail, wakes up too late for the contest. He then spends the rest of the year having to give out all of his eggs, a feat which seems impossible, especially with Irontail meddling the whole time.
The whole special runs about 50 minutes and is perfect for the entire family to enjoy. Rankin/Bass were really good at what they did and their specials stand the test of time. Turn this special on and watch your kids put down the tablets and gravitate to the TV.
2. The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town
This is another classic from the Rankin/Bass duo that came six years later in 1977. The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town is arguably a better story than Here Comes Peter Cottontail because it is like an Easter Bunny Origins story.
For starters, I love how they take the classic title of Here Comes Santa Clause and adapts it to another legendary figure. The entire 50-minute special dedicates itself to explaining the origins of the Easter Bunny and all of our Easter traditions including dyed eggs and even a cute explanation of the invention of Jelly Beans.
Though this stand-alone Easter feature is over forty years old, it is still just as enjoyable to kids now as it was then. I know that for a fact because my five-year-old is sitting next to me entranced by it as we watch it together for the first time. It just goes to show that these specials are called classics for a reason.
3. The Berenstain Bears Easter Surprise
If you did not grow up with the Berenstain Bears, I feel sorry for you. This beloved children's series is so popular that there is even a multi-dimensional theory about how it is spelled. While it is traditionally a book series, they managed to make a hop to the small screen too with a TV series and multiple TV specials.
The Easter Special is fun because it is a quick 25-minute jaunt that manages to combine two stories in one. The main story is about the Easter Bunny deciding not to do his job which freezes winter and doesn't allow spring to come. The second, which is based on one of the Berenstain books, is about the introduction of Sister Bear. I grew up with that book, and I love how this special subtly integrates it into this story.
This is a cute story that doesn't have a lot of substance to it. One of my favorite aspects of this special is that there are a few adult jokes that I got to appreciate now that I am a parent.
4. Silly Symphony: Funny Little Bunnies
I love Silly Symphony; I don't know why exactly but I think it is a mixture of the classic music and the fact that it takes me back to a simpler time in my life. These cartoons each run between four and eight minutes and tell a story using little to no words. This one, in particular, tells a story of an army of bunnies training for Easter.
The bunnies do everything from exercising to get ready for the big day to painting eggs and carving rabbits into giant chocolate bars. The entire short is set to a whimsical instrumental that makes you want to get up and dance to it. This is an excellent cartoon for ages 1 to 100 and should be required watching for Easter time.
5. A Family Circus Easter
Everybody knows the Family Circus single frame comic that has been offering lighthearted jokes in the newspaper for decades but some may be surprised to know that in the late '70s and early '80s there were a handful of Family Circus animated holiday specials. Though I love them all, the Family Circus Easter special is by far my favorite.
The special starts with the kids painting eggs for Easter when they realize that an easter egg hunt may be a little difficult for P.J., the youngest of the family. When they go outside to move the eggs to make it easier for P.J. they end up capturing a bunny that they think is the Easter Bunny. After releasing the bunny and helping P.J. find his eggs the kids look into a magic Easter egg and imagine what it would be like to meet the real Easter Bunny.
In true Family Circus fashion, this special is perfect for the whole family. It is just under twenty-five minutes long, but it feels much longer in a good way. One of the many positive attributes of this special are the original songs which are surprisingly good. Without any prompting from me, my eight-year-old exclaimed that this was her favorite and her and my five-year-old keep asking to watch it again and again.
6. Buttons and Rusty Meet the Easter Bunny
If you have ever read one of my other holiday specials lists, then you know that I adore the Chucklewood Critters series of specials. Anytime I watch one of these they immediately take me back to the euphoria of the holidays when I was a kid. Though the Halloween special is my hands down favorite Buttons and Rusty Meet the Easter Bunny is a close second.
The title cubs, a bear and a fox, start the special by finding out about Easter. In a rush to enjoy Easter traditions the cubs go around the forest collecting eggs to paint. The problem is that the eggs belong to the many animals of the forest who think that there is an egg-napper on the loose. Meaning no harm, the cubs plan to put the eggs back in the morning, but a sidetracked trip to visit the Easter Bunny leaves their parents with the task of returning the eggs to disastrous results.
There is not a big moral to this story; it's just a fun Spring special for the whole family to enjoy. At only 22-minutes it is not a huge commitment, but it is something your kids will want to watch every year. I look forward to watching this with my kids every year, and now they look forward to it too.
7. The Story Keepers Easter Special
Though Easter, like every holiday, has taken on a more secular meaning the story of Easter is, of course, rooted in Christianity. While most Easter specials are cute stories about the Easter Bunny, a lot of people would love to find an Easter special that explains the crucifixion and resurrection to a younger crowd. The Story Keepers was a Christian series from the mid-1990s that does just that.
This series explains the intense story in a way that kids can understand and is not as heavy as the full story. Intertwined in the story of Jesus is the story of other Christians being persecuted in Rome which makes the special a little longer. At over an hour in length, it may be a family movie night special, but it is an excellent version of the story, and I think most people who believe will thoroughly enjoy this telling.