Stuffy is a stuffed bunny given to a little girl one Christmas in the Victorian era. When the little girl comes down with Scarlet Fever, her doctor must insist all her toys and clothes be burned. Luckily, because she loved him so much, Stuffy is saved from the fire by a fairy who looks after well-loved toys and turns them real. Stuffy is given an extra mission, however. It has been decided that he is to be the first Easter Rabbit. Soon, Stuffy is on a trek to Easter Valley, joined by three rabbit misfits, to set up shop in this magical, green location hidden away at the North Pole. But, as the fairy warned him, Stuffy must be cautious. The snow creature known as Zero intends to make Easter Valley like the rest of the North Pole before his first Easter visit can ever take place!
"The First Easter Rabbit" is a sweet if unremarkable little animated special from Rankin/Bass, the masters of holiday specials only outdone by the Peanuts gang over the years. The team produced three Easter specials that come to mind, this one being the second, from 1976. While this story is done in traditional, hand-drawn cel animation, the other two, "Here Comes Peter Cottontail" (1971) and "The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town" (1977) are stop-motion "Animagic" (ala R/B's famous Rudolph TV special) and generally seem to be better-known. Personally, I have always been most familiar with "Here Comes Peter Cottontail", probably the best-known of the three, and it is a true favorite of mine. The other two I had never seen until today, Easter 2013, and in fact, I won't have seen Easter Bunny is Coming to Town until after I finish writing this. I'll probably review that one too.
Being that it is traditional animation like Frosty and a few of R/B's others rather than their highly popular stop-motion animation, it is also shorter, with a runtime of 25 minutes. Unfortunately, that means you don't get a lot on the DVD. Mine only included a puzzle game as a bonus feature. However, I do not own the "Deluxe Edition", but rather the 3-pack Fun Easter 3-disc set that also includes "The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town" and "Yogi the Easter Bear". Unless the deluxe edition includes some extras I don't know about (it could be the very same disc in my set though, since I hear it does not have any extras), I recommend going for the triple disc set I picked up (it's hardly more expensive at all, and it looks and sounds great). But, getting back to the program itself...
"First Easter Rabbit" has its charm. It's hosted by Burl Ives in the form of a cartoon rabbit, so right there, you know it's going to be an enchanting little holiday tale. However, plot-wise, though starting out with a similar plot to "The Velveteen Rabbit", it soon goes into a standard R/B formula of an icy villain trying to stop the festivities and the good guys calling on Santa Claus to save the day. Yes, though I admittedly am a big Rankin/Bass fan, they are always trying to stick Santa in everything! Even Rudolph gets in on the action for a sec. Those were R/B's biggest stars, so they seemed timid to do much without them. Or maybe it was just demanded of them to include the pair in everything. Anyway, while the general plot about Easter, the villain (a combination of Jack Frost, Prof. Hinkle and Winter Warlock), and Santa are formulaic R/B, it also has the sub-plot about Stuffy's relationship with the little girl, which continues to have importance throughout the program. This is what makes this special... special. It's sweet and touching, and it also allows for the singing of "Easter Parade", a sequence that does a lot to make this feel like an Easter Special and not Frosty 2 (er 3, or... whatever). So, basically, this is a nice Easter offering from Rankin Bass, but I still prefer Peter Cottontail by far(the original; I just remembered there was a CGI sequel a few years back), and we'll see how "Easter Bunny is Coming to Town" fairs this afternoon. I recommend picking this one up if you're a big Easter, R/B, or even Santa fan, but I do recommend getting it in the 3 pack I just bought last week.