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Rabbit Ears Productions: A Retrospective

Hello Retro community!

Rabbit Ears Productions (or Rabbit Ears Entertainment, as it is called now) was an animated company that specialized in telling stories both old and new by using various celebrities who were popular during the 1980s and the 1990s to narrate the stories.  Some of the stories that were being told in this series were “Pecos Bill,” narrated by Robin Williams, “John Henry,” narrated by Denzel Washington and “The Elephant’s Child,” narrated by Jack Nicholson.

Even though this company has been around for nearly 10 years in its original run, many people are not aware of this company’s existence, due to the series being distributed in limited markets at the time (limited as in only libraries and schools can order these videos). 

So, I wanted to take the time to talk about the history of Rabbit Ears Productions and the impact it had on me as a child.  So, let’s begin the retrospective adventure!

HISTORY

Rabbit Ears Productions began its production in 1985 and it was being created by Mark Sottnick and Doris Wilhousky. Both Mark Sottnick and Doris Wilhousky wanted to create this company because they believed that quality entertainment can help children show more appreciation for literature, art and music.  The first story that they adapted was “The Velveteen Rabbit,” which was narrated by Meryl Streep at Palace Production Center in South Norwalk, Connecticut.


From 1985-1994, Rabbit Ears Productions had created over 63 titles, which included “The Fool and the Flying Ship,” narrated by Robin Williams, “Brer Rabbit and Boss Lion,” narrated by Danny Glover, “Jack and the Beanstalk,” narrated by Michael Palin and “East of the Sun West of the Moon,” narrated by Max Von Sydow.  But unfortunately, in the mid-1990s, Rabbit Ears Productions ended up changing hands and no more titles were being made during this period.  However, the word of mouth praise for the company and their stories kept the company in the public’s conscience. So, in 2000, Chris Campbell, who was one of the original partners of the company, was able to gain control of the programs and along with Mark Sottnick and Doris Wilhousky, they were able to reinvent the company and now call it “Rabbit Ears Entertainment, LLC.”  Now, the company is busy working on new titles, with their most recently released title in 2008 called “Tom Thumb,” which was narrated by John Cleese.

IMPACT

I had grown up watching this series ever since I was little.  I used to go to my public library during the summer and pick up these tapes whenever I could and watch them from day in and day out!  One of the reasons why I loved going to the library so much when I was little, besides the fact that I loved to read, was because I was always excited to see what new Rabbit Ears tapes would be available at the library.  And since then, I had developed a great love for this series!

Rabbit Ears Productions was unlike any other company that I had seen before.  Not only was its animation style much more different from the animated movies and TV shows that came out during that time. As the animation mainly consisted of the camera moving across the illustrations, while the characters dissolve into the next scene whenever they are moving.  But it also developed my love for fairy tales and folktales in general.  Even though Disney was partially responsible for my love of fairy tales such as “Pinocchio,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Aladdin,” Rabbit Ears Productions helped me discover the more obscure folktales and fairy tales like “The Fool and the Flying Ship,” “Finn McCoul,” “Mr. Jeremy Fisher” and “How the Camel Got His Hump.”  If it wasn’t for Rabbit Ears Productions, I probably would have never noticed that there were far more fairy tales and folktales besides “The Three Little Pigs” and “Snow White.”

Also, this series helped convinced me that celebrities can narrate children’s stories, as I believed at first that celebrities probably wouldn’t want to narrate such stories.  But this series has shown me that there were various celebrities at the time who have shown such excitement and commitment for this series, such as Danny Glover, Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington and Robin Williams.


MY FAVORITE STORIES

Rabbit Ears Productions had created so many fantastic stories over the years and there were a couple of stories that really shaped my love for this series!

PECOS BILL

This little gem was narrated by the late Robin Williams and it detailed the adventures of everyone’s favorite cowboy!  “Pecos Bill” was a treat to me because it showed just how capable Rabbit Ears can be with both incorporating good humor in their productions and still tell an engaging story!  I especially loved the scene of Pecos Bill fighting off the tornado!


JOHN HENRY

This brilliant story is about a strong man named John Henry who loved working on the railroad until one day, a man comes in with a steam drill machine and challenges John Henry to see who can drive the most nails into the railroad tracks.  Does John Henry win the race?  Well, you’ll have to watch this story to find out!

Denzel Washington was a fantastic narrator for this story and I just loved the fact that this story is about the importance of determination and never giving up on your dreams.  My favorite part of this story was definitely the late B.B. King’s musical score as the catchy blues soundtrack really captures the optimistic tone of this story.

HOW THE RHINOCEROS GOT HIS SKIN AND HOW THE CAMEL GOT HIS HUMP

Now, this list wouldn’t be complete without these truly imaginative yet bizarre little tales!  Both stories dealt with a camel and a rhinoceros who were both rude and arrogant towards other people and they both get taught a lesson about humility.

What made these stories a true delight to watch was Jack Nicholson’s silky narration! I never would have expected Jack Nicholson to sound so calm and charming while narrating these stories, especially after you’ve seen him in “The Shining” (although, I didn’t watch “The Shining” until I was well into high school).  I also loved Bobby McFerrin’s music, especially during the Camel’s dance scene!


THE FOOL AND THE FLYING SHIP

And last, but definitely not least, there was “The Fool and the Flying Ship,” which was narrated by the late Robin Williams!  In this story, a young foolish man hears about the Tsar’s proclamation that whosoever build a flying ship, will win the hand of his daughter, the princess.  So, the fool decided to go out and build a flying ship and once he finished that, he ends up picking up a group of men who all possess special abilities.  When the fool and his new companions finally arrive at the Tsar’s palace, the Tsar was displeased with the fact that the fool and his companions are just peasants and he ended up giving them impossible tasks to complete, before the fool can marry the princess. Can the fool and his companions complete the Tsar’s impossible tasks?  Watch this story to find out!

This is absolutely my all-time favorite story from the company as the late Robin Williams’ narration was truly hilarious and the artwork by Henrik Drescher was highly creative yet bizarre!  Probably my most favorite scene in this story was when the Puffer was pulling the land apart in order to get the penguins from the North Pole!

FINALE

Overall, Rabbit Ears Productions is truly one underrated company that had a lot of brilliant stories and fantastic celebrities who really brought these stories to life with their engaging narrations!  So, before I wrap up this article, here are a few questions for you Rabbit Ears fans:

1.       What was the weirdest Rabbit Ears story you have ever seen?

2.       What’s your favorite Rabbit Ears story?

3.       Who was your favorite celebrity narrator (Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep)?

4.       What did you like best about Rabbit Ears Productions?

5.       Do you think that Rabbit Ears Productions should make their own TV series?

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Rabbitearsblog Posted on Aug 18, 2019 at 11:10 PM

Oooh! A John Henry movie from Dreamworks! Sounds awesome!

jkatz Posted on Aug 18, 2019 at 08:02 AM

The poster for John Henry almost looks like it could be a Dreamworks movie.

Rabbitearsblog Posted on Aug 18, 2019 at 04:37 AM

Thanks everyone! Glad you got the chance to see what this series is all about! I also agree that B.B. King's score in "John Henry" was probably the best part of the story!

echidna64 Posted on Aug 15, 2019 at 09:44 PM

Well done! The John Henry film is my favorite version, I love the B.B. King score.

Benjanime Posted on Aug 15, 2019 at 09:25 PM

wow, i thought this sounded familiar, it totally reminds me of shelly duvall's bedtime stories! this was a pretty neat in-depth look at rabbit ears and their work. great first article!

Vaporman87 Posted on Aug 15, 2019 at 08:58 PM

I had never heard of Rabbit Ears before you came along. This was a very thorough and interesting breakdown of it's history though. Nicely done!

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