Have you ever discovered what you thought was a hidden, obscure gem, only to find that millions of people already knew about it? That’s my experience with MR. HORATIO KNIBBLES (1971). Millions of British children growing up in the 70s, 80s, and beyond were both in love with and traumatized by this movie.
Little Mary’s birthday is coming up, and she wants nothing more than a pet bunny. For whatever reason, her mother doesn’t want to get her one, suggesting a kitten instead. Mary holds firm about the rabbit and unfortunately her mother does too. While sitting around brooding, Mary discovers a note instructing her to close her eyes and count to five. When she opens her eyes, a six foot tall rabbit in semi-formal wear is standing in her dining room. Mind you, this is 1971. Pre-special effects. Chances are they wouldn’t be able to afford any on their budget. They could have gone one of two ways. The first would be like NIGHT OF THE LEPUS where real-life bunnies are photographed against miniature sets, making them look monstrously large. They could have, but they didn’t. Instead, the filmmakers probably went down to the local rec center and asked to borrow the Easter Bunny costume that had been used for the past ten years. It’s a fuzzy cotton suit with pants and vest and a hat with his ears sticking through. The rabbit mask barely moves when he speaks, let alone shows any emotion. It’s adorable, but with the creepy undertones of a mall Easter Bunny counting down the hours until lunch break.
What follows is a kid-friendly version of HARVEY, with a little DROP DEAD FRED and DONNIE DARKO thrown in. Only Mary and a random rabbit-loving policeman can see Mr. Knibbles. Sure, her mother sees juice disappear from a glass and flowers move through the house. She could believe her daughter when she says it’s an invisible six foot tall talking rabbit. Instead she sees it as a sign she needs fresh air. Mary and Mr. Knibbles exploit this situation to get revenge on her brother who picks on her way too much. It’s all very tame stuff like kicking his behind when his back is turned, or making him fall over. There are small subplots where Mary sneaks off to Mr. Knibbles’ neighborhood and gets accused by a local farmer of kipper-poaching, or when Mr. Knibbles accidentally gets locked in a rain barrel. They’re resolved quickly and seem to have little to do with the movie other than give it a reason to be feature-length. There’s no great lesson learned. There is no great He-Man style Public Service Announcement to teach kids life lessons. It’s a fun, fluff movie about a girl who wanted a rabbit and got one in abunndance.
As far as I can tell, no official release of MR. HORATIO KNIBBLES has come to home video but it has been thankfully preserved by the many people who recorded it off British TV during its annual Easter and Christmas showings.
Question of the night–do you have a favorite rabbit?