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Elisabeth Rappe

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Elisabeth Rappe is a regular contributor to Film.com, CHUD, and The Spectator's arts blog. She spends her off-time with comic books, her pug, Elliot, video games, and Clint Eastwood movies.

The Best Movies That Involve a Rabbit?

Rabbits are enchanting creatures. (Unless you live in Australia, that is.) They have long ears, fluffy tails, big eyes, and they don’t kill anything bigger than a zucchini to survive. They hop. They wiggle their noses. They even serve as adorable euphemisms for sex.

But there aren’t a lot of rabbit movies. I’m not sure why. I suppose it’s because they’re timid creatures and not very adept at tricks. Many people see them as food or pests, though neither squeamish fact stopped Babe or Mickey Mouse from being successful. (Trivia: Mickey Mouse was once a rabbit named Oswald! Is this where it all began?) It’s not hard to write a story about a rabbit, either. They feature in an inordinate amount of popular children’s tales from Beatrix Potter to Bunnicula, and all could be neatly CGI’d into a wonderful film. Rango proved you can create weird genre stories with any animal. Pixar has spun adorable tales about fish, cars, and rats. Why not bunnies? Does it all stem from Disney having to swap Oswald the Rabbit into Mickey to avoid lawsuits?

Well, Hop is in theaters this weekend. If it’s a success (And how can it not be? He poops jelly beans. Kids love that stuff.) maybe he will usher in a trend of rabbit-oriented movies. Perhaps we’ll even see the return of Oswald: The Lucky Rabbit. Maybe mice, parrots, and monkeys will look around and say, “What the heck happened?”

In the meantime, here’s a list of rabbit-oriented films you can watch this springtime should you need a leporidae fix.

Harvey
The original “My best friend is a rabbit” movie, and the best for its blend of sweetness and sorrow. Technically, Harvey isn’t a rabbit but a pooka — a mischievous Celtic spirit — but his preferred form is that of a six-foot-tall white rabbit. He’s content spending his days and nights with Elwood P. Dowd in the neighborhood bar, listening to the jukebox and chatting with patrons.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Roger Rabbit makes the hard drinking Harvey seem like, well, a Disney character. It isn’t that Roger isn’t sweet and innocent but … well, look who he’s married to. It’s always been hard to reconcile this dark and slightly dirty noir with the bright and shiny Toontown spin-off in Disneyland, or the company’s embrace of Roger as a family-friendly character. Did no one at Disney really get the patty-cake joke? Watch it again and see if you do, and marvel at how mature this movie really is. Don’t let the red overalls and falling anvils fool you.

Bambi
“I’m thumpin! That’s why they call me Thumper!” Thumper may be the most charming rabbit ever drawn on celluloid. From his sayings to his ice skating, there’s not a single scene of baby Thumper that isn’t painfully adorable. He’s the bright spot in a film most people remember as the first to tear out their childhood hearts. The cuteness belies how haunting and poetic this movie actually is.

Watership Down
Martin Rosen’s animated adaptation pulled no punches. This was 1978, a small slice of time when animation could be trippy, dark, gruesome, and nightmarish. (See also: The Secret of NIMH.) If you want cuddly rabbits, rent Bambi. If you want rabies, blood, and Art Garfunkel, this is your film. Pick your viewing time wisely, though; it’s the kind of weird fever dream that will stick with you.

Alice in Wonderland
The White Rabbit isn’t really a character. He’s a weird symbol (apparently of age and nerves versus Alice’s youth and vitality, but why is anyone’s guess), and has been appropriated as such by everything from drug culture to The Matrix. That’s pretty impressive for a rabbit who was only given a handful of lines, a clock, and a waistcoat. Pick your favorite version to watch — Disney’s animated, the surrealist Czech version Neco z Alenky, the stripped down 1966 BBC version … or, if you absolutely have to, Tim Burton’s. I won’t judge.

Sexy Beast / Donnie Darko
What exactly was in the water in 2000/2001? Not one but two films came out that featured humans terrorized by humanoid rabbits. (Actually, it was more than two films. Peet Gelderblom did a fantastic job of documenting all the creepy rabbits that popped up in those successive years, and there seems to be no source! Yikes.) You’ll have to pick which poison you want — gangster or sci-fi — but neither is an easy and light watch. Perfect for Easter dinner, right?

The Song of the South
South remains Disney’s secret shame, and has remained locked in the Disney Vault for decades. It’s unfortunate. The film has its flaws, but it’s not the only film to depict the antebellum South inaccurately, and James Baskett’s performance really deserves recognition, as do the tales of Br’er Rabbit, which have a long and complex history. Until Disney decides to release it, you’ll have to make do with the bits that appear on the Alice in Wonderland DVD. Make a rabbity night of it. Baskett is worth it.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
I love Aardman’s clay world, especially because they never do anything halfway. They weren’t content with just one were-rabbit. This film is littered with bug-eyed and squeaky bunnies. They’re everywhere. They’re under beds, in fridges, in cars, and under every vegetable. I think their cuteness actually wore off by movie’s end from their sheer squishy number. No, that’s a lie, and the bunny refuge at the end is what we should all hope the afterlife is like. Such a gleeful and clever film that’s fun without being stupid.

Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail
The Rabbit of Caerbannog is widely considered to be the best movie bunny of all time. I can’t disagree. I’m afraid of its nasty, sharp, pointy teeth. In fact, I’m going to just walk away from this entry right now.

Night of the Lepus
Are giant, mutated, bloodthirsty rabbits scary? No. But you have to give them credit for trying, especially since the bunnies look more bored than the actors. Lepus isn’t quite as funny-bad as Frogs, but pet bunnies loping across miniature sets and smashing balsa wood houses is worth a YouTube peek.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
There are a lot of delightful and quirky moments in this underrated crime comedy, but none weirder than the rabbit scene, which even Edgar Wright says has to be seen to be believed. It comes out of nowhere, is handled with surprising equanimity by Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood, and it never comes up again. You’d think it would, especially since it also involved a raccoon.

Winnie the Pooh
If Thumper is the sweetest rabbit ever animated, Rabbit has to be the sourest. I’ve tried to work up some sympathy for him. How would I feel if a chubby bear was always coming by to mooch my honey? But you know what? I wouldn’t care, because I lived on grass and carrots. Rabbit is a grouch, but Christopher Robin loves him, so we must. Especially since … sob … he’s um … growing up … and….

Miss Potter
If you can get past Renee Zellweger’s lisping attempt at characterization, Miss Potter is actually a good biopic of Beatrix Potter. The scenery is beautiful, the animation is seamless, and it makes Peter Rabbit as real as he’s been to any child reading about his new blue coat. In another filmmaking year, and with another actress, this might have been one of those The King’s Speech award winners.

The Muppet Christmas Carol
I’m including this solely to give a shout-out to Bean Bunny, who is apparently so loathed within the Muppet Studios that they find ways to abuse him in every film. Once the star of his own HBO special, Bean Bunny has been downgraded to parts like Carol’s street urchin, where he spends the night wrapped in newspaper and snuffling. What did Bean Bunny ever do to anyone?

Of Mice and Men
You never actually see any rabbits in Of Mice and Men — or do you? Lenny’s hopes and pleas for “them rabbits” makes them as tangible to the audience as they are to Lenny. They’re a potent symbol of a better life, possibly making them more important than any rabbit on this list.

Presto
We’ll end on a high and short note with Pixar’s Presto. Poor little Alec just wants his carrot before the show. But Presto the magician doesn’t care about his suffering bunny. He craves fame, fortune, and believes the show must go on no matter how hungry his bunny is. But he pays for it. It’s the best animal revenge story there is … and it’s only five minutes!


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