“This may be one of the most saccharine Henson specials ever. The bunnies are all extremely cutesy, the forest impossibly idyllic, and everything’s very happy, cheerful and colorful.“
–TV Tropes on The Tale of the Bunny Picnic
Granted, it’s not exactly Watership Down either, but when I watched it for the first time recently, I couldn’t even finish it in one sitting because I was so upset by it.
Sure, the bunnies are cute and the colors are bright and the music is peppy, but much like Fraggle Rock, there are some serious themes hidden underneath the candy-colored exterior. Our Hero, Bean Bunny, is constantly bullied by his big brother, Lugsy, and the dog is blatantly and brazenly abused by the farmer. Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Henson brings you the charming story of adorable animals being tormented and mistreated…enjoy!
But eventually I went back and finished it, because I knew the payoff had to be worth it…and it was.
Despite being allergic to bunnies, the farmer sends the dog out to catch bunnies for him to turn into stew. Clearly the farmer has not heeded the wise words of Lemony Snicket: “If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth.”* Bean comes up with a plan to dissuade the dog from catching the bunnies; all the young bunnies dress up in a Giant Bunny costume and admonish the dog that “those who hurt others hurt themselves. The dog is properly scared but pleads with the Giant Bunny that he has to catch a bunny for the farmer’s stew. Then the farmer arrives on the scene, and Bean realizes that even the big, scary dog is frightened of the farmer.
As Bean and the dog hide from the farmer, the dog tells Bean that bunnies make the farmer sneeze. That gives Bean an idea, and he demonstrates that he is Badass Adorable by being a Badass Pacifist. Specifically, he comes out of hiding, stands up to the farmer, and starts singing a protest song. He doesn’t attack the farmer or make a move against him; he just stands there and lets his dander do the work. Eventually, all the other bunnies stand with him and join in.
I know I’ve posted this song several times already, but I have to post it again, because it’s just that good:
I recently found out the lyrics to the section of this song that is hard to understand, and they are magnificently poignant:
We are marching to the drum of time; it tells us where to go.
We are marching; we are searching for an end to hate and woe.
We will march against the mighty; we will march against the strong.
We will march to free our brother, who has suffered under wrong.
Drum of right, lead the fight!
Drum of time, we shall climb!
We will march to fight the wicked ’til the wicked takes to flight,
For we serve the drum of right
Now…it’s not necessarily that I want to relate every Muppet thing ever to the Schism, but the prevailing themes of standing up to injustice and to the corrupt use of power shove themselves in my face in a way that won’t be ignored or denied. And in this case, it’s almost impossible not to see Steve as Bean Bunny because Steve is Bean Bunny, literally and figuratively. It’s difficult not to see Disney as the farmer, and it’s hard not to sigh with frustrated nostalgia for a time, not so long ago, when Muppet fans would step up and rally around a brother who has suffered under wrong, rather than either leaving him to his fate or actively participating in the persecution.
We can apply Bunny Picnic to the Schism, but if the other bunnies were analogues for the mainstream Muppet fandom, then the story would end much differently. The farmer would do violence to Bean, while the other bunnies would stay hidden in the brambles and equivocate about why the farmer has every right to cook Bean Bunny in a stew. (“He has to eat, after all. He has an alimentary obligation to his stomach.”)
And the mainstream Muppet fandom’s antipathy and apathy would be illustrated in alternate lyrics to “Drum of Time”:
We are cow’ring in our hidey holes; our necks we won’t stick out.
We refuse to give that Bean Bunny the benefit of the doubt.
We are siding with the farmer, whom we’re trying to appease,
In the hopes he will release to us the Muppet Show DVDs.
But perhaps the best allegory for the mainstream Muppet fandom’s complicity in the Schism is when the Storyteller finishes his story about the Fox and the Giant Hedgehog, and Big Brother Bully Lugsy gushes: “I just love that bit! ‘Those who hurt others, hurt themselves’!”
*…”especially if the thing is cats.”