‘Tale Of The Bunny Picnic’ Is Underrated Gem From Jim Henson

This May, Jim Henson will have been gone from this world for 33 years. That’s almost as long as he was worked as a professional puppeteer, starting out in the 1950s working for a Washington, D.C. news station on a local kid’s show. For many children, they grew up watching Sesame Street, The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock. Sadly, Philip Balsam passed away last month. He was a Canadian musician who often work with Henson on certain shows, such as Fraggle Rock and the 1986 TV special The Tale of the Bunny Picnic.

Henson got the idea one day when he was walking through a park and had observed a collection of rabbits he thought looked like they were having a picnic. Then, a dog came up running and the rabbits scattered. He used this idea to make the special with Jocelyn Stevenson (who wrote for Sesame and Fraggle) penning the teleplay. Henson directed it with David G. Hillier.

The bunnies live a life of bliss as they living happily on the outskirts of a farm as they prepare for the upcoming Bunny Picnic. Unfortunately, the young Bean Bunny (performed by Steve Whitmire) feels underappreciated and wants to help out. But his older brother, Lugsy Bunny (performed by Richard Hunt) is constantly berating him and saying he’s not old enough to do certain things. His sister, Twitch (performed by Camille Bonora) is more sympathetic and caring of him.

So, when Bean walks away from where all the bunnies are he sees a dog (performed by Henson) who tries to attack him, but he gets away. When he tries to tell everyone else, they say there hasn’t been a dog in years as the farmer (Martin P. Robinson) is very allergic. Unbeknownst, the farmer, who is very cruel and hates animals, has gotten the dog to round up all the bunnies that have been destroying his crops and make stew out of them.

Eventually, the bunnies discover the dog is real as Bean has said and they have to come up with a way to get rid of him. But the dog himself is just as frightened of the farmer as the bunnies are. He only wants to get the bunnies because that will be the only the farmer will feed him. In the end, the bunnies and the dog realize that they have a common enemy against the farmer and can work together to run him off.

Like most of Henson’s works, it has meaning to its plot. First, there’s the case of animal abuse as the farmer hates animals so much he mistreats them. And you could look at the dog, who it’s implied was at a pound prior to the story, had suffered a previous trauma. As for Bean, it shows young children never to underestimate what people are capable of. Just because someone is older doesn’t exactly mean they are better suited to do something. While in real life, most dogs would probably be more vicious toward rabbits, most of Henson’s works have animals who would be predators and prey co-existing. They’re actually metaphors for how we can really work together as long as we don’t let someone else cause us to be enemies.

This was the first introduction of Bean, who would later appear in cartoon form on Muppet Babies and The Jim Henson Hour as well as having a crucial role in The Muppet Christmas Carol. However, many of the Muppeteers have reported that Bean isn’t one of their favorite characters as he’s mostly been regulated to background characters in the past 30 years. Henson’s son, Brian, who directed Christmas Carol called Bean the one “we love to hate” which probably explains why Ebeneezer Scrooger (Sir Michael Caine) throws a wreath at him in the movie.

Frank Oz, who collaborated with Henson from almost the beginning said of Bean “Jim built a character named Bean Bunny, so people could think he’s cute, and take the onus off of the others […] But, it didn’t work — they still thought the others were cute.”

This might explain why Bunny Picnic isn’t as much loved as the three movies (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppet Takes Manhattan) that were made while Henson was alive or the 1990s movies (Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space). I think the issue is while the Muppet movies often had a little humor and wit thrown in adults would like, Bunny Picnic is mostly for young kids in its tone and style.

But it’s still one of Henson’s most memorable for the young viewers who tuned in during the late 1980s. And it’s a nice reminder of the legacy of Balsam.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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