1982: Bunnicula

James Howe's 1979 novel Bunnicula belongs in the pantheon of cozy mysteries in which the story is narrated by a great detective's roommate, ala Watson narrating the Sherlock Holmes stories, or Archie telling the stories of Nero Wolfe. Sure, in this instance the narrator is a talking dog named Harold, the detective skills of Chester the Cat are probably questionable, but the venerable children's book maintains a certain coziness and charm, as the two household pets investigate the theory that the new pet rabbit, Bunnicula, is a vampire. After all, the vegetables in the house are being drained of color. There's not much harm in this, but, as Chester says, "Today, vegetables...tomorrow, the world!"

Re-reading Bunnicula this week was a pleasure - it's a very smart book; smarter, in many ways, than we can get away with in a 90 page middle grade book today. Like a great many middle grade books from that era, the father of the house is an English professor (fathers seem as though they're almost always writers or professors in smart kids' books of the '60s-'80s). In the end, Chester is in therapy, reading books with titles like Finding Yourself by Screaming a Lot.

The book spawned several sequels, incluing The Celery Stalks at Midnight, my own pick for the best comic horror title of all time, and an animated one-off special that was aired as an ABC Weekend Special in fall, 1982.

The cartoon varies quite a bit from the plot of the book. Here, the father works at a factory, and the factory is being shut down due to strange vampire-like activity. Harold and Chester, the dog and cat, are a bit more, well, cartoonish than their cozy counterparts in the book. It all ends in a big chase scene inside of the factory, during which Bunnicula exhibits explicit vampire powers (which also never happens in the book).

Compared to the book, the cartoon seems like a real disaster. But taking the cartoon on its own, it's really not bad at all; visually, and in terms of the plot and the humor, it comes off like a second-string Scooby Doo episode (which is a darn sight better than a third-string one). It has the visual look of an early Scooby, and even some voices that sounds Scooby-like, and the same general premise of a big chase scene as we find out that the real culprit in the factory was a bunch of wolves or coyotes or something, not an actual vampire.

Judged on its own merits, Bunnicula is a pretty enjoyable 22 minute cartoon. If you enjoyed it as a kid, it will be fun to revisit now. And you can, thanks to youtube:

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