Easter is one of those holidays with two sides to it – on one hand, you have The Passion of the Christ side of things, and on the other, you have bunnies hiding eggs and chocolate for children. Rabbits (and eggs) signified fertility to ancient pagans, and could be part of their Ostara celebrations in late March. When early Christians spread into pagan territory, customs began to merge and the pagan and Christian elements of Easter somehow gave us the Easter bunny. The Easter bunny tradition was brought to America by the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1700’s as the Oschter Haws, a magical hare that would lay a nest of colorful eggs for well-behaved children.
In celebration of the the Easter bunny, let’s take a look at some of the other rabbits who have done well for themselves in books, movies, video games, and television.
Bugs Bunny – Merry Melodies and Looney Tunes
One of the most famous fictional rabbits of all time, Bugs Bunny has been entertaining children and adults alike since his first cartoon appearance in Tex Avery’s 1940 cartoon, A Wild Hare. Originally voiced by Mel Blanc, the gray hare is still a pop culture icon, famous for cross-dressing, foiling his enemies with tricks, and his signature catch-phrase, “eh, what’s up Doc?”
A free spirit with a slightly twisted sense of humor, Bugs became the star of Merry Melodies and Looney Tunes franchises, and later a mascot for Warner Bros. The wascally wabbit won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1958 for the cartoon Knighty Knight Bugs, in which Bugs helps King Arthur and his knights in Camelot.
Bugs Bunny often breaks the fourth wall in his cartoons, explaining situations to the audience or commenting on their absurdity. He is clever and funny, but never malevolent towards his enemies, which makes him a likeable hero. Over the years, the “Bunny” name has spread as Bugs encountered two potential female rabbit love interests (Lola Bunny and Honey Bunny), and two college students at ACME Tooniversity, Buster and Babs Bunny.
The White Rabbit – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The neurotic, suit-wearing, pocket-watch carrying rabbit from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is best known for leading the story’s protagonist, Alice, down a rabbit hole and into Wonderland. The white rabbit has become a symbol for alternate realities and mind-bending experiences in properties ranging from The Matrix to Pacific Rim and LOST. In Terry Gilliam’s film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the Dr. Gonzo character tries to transcend reality by having a radio playing Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” thrown into the bathtub while on an acid trip.
The white rabbit symbolizes quite a bit, but what about the lagomorph himself? The White Rabbit made his first appearance in Lewis Carroll’s novel, but has since appeared in two Disney films, the television show Once Upon a Time, and numerous other Wonderland properties. He is a nervous creature prone to lateness, famous for his line in the 1951 Disney Alice in Wonderland film, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!”
Rabbit – Winnie the Pooh
Speaking of neurotic bunnies, Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh is a pop-culture icon and one of the most important characters in the series. First appearing in Winnie-the-Pooh, the 1926 children’s book by Alan A. Milne, Rabbit is one of the only flesh-and-blood characters in the Hundred Acre Wood, as many of the others are plush toys.
Rabbit is clever, a planner, and a stickler for details. He doesn’t like things being out of order and is meticulous about his garden in the Disney series of cartoons and movies, starting with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1977.
Rabbit is a somewhat flawed character, uneasy around new people and stuck in his ways, but that’s part of what makes him so endearing. He tries to fix every situation himself, often to humorous (or lesson-teaching) results. He’s bossy and can sometimes have problems understanding the feelings of others, finding pleasure when others are punished. This flawed nature makes him a good contrast to the always-loving Winnie the Pooh, and allows Rabbit to serve as an “adult” in a world otherwise populated by childish characters.
Raving Rabbids – Ubisoft
While Rabbids aren’t technically rabbits, they’re definitely close enough to make the list. These weird little guys originally appeared in the Rayman video game series and have since garnered enough love to have their own series of games. The Rabbids started as villains, wreaking havoc in the Rayman games. Their high-pitched “BWAAAH” sound became a kind of catchphrase, and Rabbids have since appeared in video games, a Nickelodeon television show, and comic books.
Most of the Rabbids video games are party games, intended for multiple players with a variety of mini-games. The Rabbids humor is based in slapstick and most of the games center around their wild antics, providing fun for children and adults alike.
Rabbids have developed enough of an international appeal that in addition to the entertainment properties and merchandising, they also have their own theme park ride in France.
Fiver, Hazel, and Bigwig – Watership Down
Ah, good old Watership Down, traumatizing children since 1978. Based on the Richard Adams novel of the same title, Watership Down tells the story of a group of young male rabbits trying to establish a new warren after the rabbit Fiver has a vision that the fields will run red with blood. The rabbits, led by Hazel, encounter every kind of rabbit hell there is along the way to their new home. They discover the danger of roads, dogs, cats, birds of prey, and a villainous chief rabbit named General Woundwort that is scarier than the vast majority of children’s story villains.
Woundwort and his cronies run the warren of Efrafra, a kind of dystopian society where the rabbits are strictly controlled and does (female rabbits) are treated like property. Certain details regarding the treatment of the does are left out of the film version, but the book goes into depth about the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse the does suffer at the paws of Woundwort and his officers.
While Watership Down isn’t really a child-friendly property, it is unique in its treatment of anthropomorphized animals. The rabbits of Watership Down each have unique personalities and traits: Bigwig is tough but fair, Hazel is idealistic but a strong leader, Fiver is fearful but ultimately wise. The characters are well-developed (especially in the novel) and it’s hard not to get invested in the rabbits’ trials and tribulations as they try to find their own place to call home.
Frank – Donnie Darko
While we’re on the topic of possibly-traumatizing movie rabbits, it’s hard not to include Frank, the bunny/demon/schizophrenic nightmare from the 2001 thriller Donnie Darko. Only Donnie himself can see Frank, who serves as a Harvey-style imaginary friend for the troubled teen. Frank tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Throughout the film, Frank serves as both a harbinger of death and a sort of antagonist friend for Donnie. (Like the White Rabbit, Frank is able to access parallel universes, though his “rabbit hole” is a science fiction-based wormhole.)
The most famous scene surrounding Frank takes place when Donnie takes love interest Gretchen to a movie. He sees Frank and asks him “Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?”and Frank responds, “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?” Frank is a symbol of Donnie’s escalating madness, pushing him to do things he normally wouldn’t have. He’s sort of the rabbit version of TV’s Wilfred, but infinitely creepier.
Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog – Monty Python and the Holy Grail
In the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, King Arthur and his knights go on a quest to find the holy grail of Christ and encounter numerous enemies along the way. In addition to a three-headed giant, an undying Black Knight, the Knights Who Say Ni, and other such baddies, the knights must defeat the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog. The rabbit guards the cave where the location of the grail is written upon the wall, and so the knights must defeat it. They encounter the small white ball of fluff surrounded by the bones of more than 50 men, but they are skeptical of their guide Tim the Enchanter’s warnings and Arthur’s knight Sir Bors attempts to kill the rabbit.
Instead, the rabbit chews Sir Bors’ head clean off and the knights realize what kind of bloodthirst the bunny possesses. They then do what any reasonable person would and they blow up the furry fella with a hand grenade.