In home video's 1980s and '90s heyday, Easter emerged as a prime selling holiday. Religious epics, holiday-related classics and children and family holiday specials were marketed as "basket stuffers."
As with Christmas and Thanksgiving, Easter (as well as Passover, which begins Monday) are family observances, and studios and retailers hope to get people into the spirit of the season with new releases and repackaged perennials timed for the holidays.
In anticipation of Easter on March 31, Warner Bros. recently released for the first time on Blu-ray "Easter Parade," the Irving Berlin musical starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, and the PG-rated "The Nativity Story" (let's keep this family-friendly; you are advised to look elsewhere for Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ").
Also available on DVD in time for Easter is a new computer-animated VeggieTales parable, "The Little House That Stood," based on the biblical story of the wise and foolish builders. It joins previous holiday-themed VeggieTales episodes, "An Easter Carol" and "'Twas the Night before Easter."
But it's not just Bible-quoting vegetables; everyone has gotten into the act in the service of Easter, from the Peanuts gang ("It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown") and Bugs Bunny ("Bugs Bunny's Easter Funnies") to Dora the Explorer ("Dora's Easter Adventure") and Yogi Bear ("Yogi the Easter Bear").
A good place to begin your Easter video hunt is at local libraries with large video collections. They are most likely to stock such faith-based live action and animated feature films as "King of Kings," "Ben-Hur," "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (featuring centurion John Wayne's immortal line, "Truly this man was the son of God"), "The Robe," or "The Miracle Maker," whose A-list voice cast is headed by Ralph Fiennes as Jesus.
The pickings for Passover are much slimmer.
"It's not like there's a ton of Hannukah movies either," laughed Rachel Kamin, director of the cultural and learning center at North Suburban Synagogue Beth-El in Highland Park.
There is, of course, "The Ten Commandments," which is best known for it still awesome "parting of the Red Sea" special effects, and for inspiring one of Billy Crystal's most quoted comedy bits — "Where's your Messiah now?" It's the one Passover film that is actually an annual tradition for many families.
But that's pretty much it, other than the animated feature, "Prince of Egypt," featuring the voice of Val Kilmer as Moses and Fiennes as his stepbrother and future Pharaoh Ramses. At 74 minutes, it is more kid-friendly than the 220-minute "Commandments."
Easter programs produced for children have a jump (or is it "hop?") on Passover by focusing more on the Spring season than its religious significance.
"Spring break tradition does not involve watching a movie about Passover," Kamin said. But she did offer some under the radar recommendations.
One is a multi-award-winning Mexican black comedy, "Nora's Will." For children, there is "It's Passover, Grover," an episode of the Israeli incarnation of "Sesame Street."
"Passover at Bubbe's" is also something of holiday family favorite.
Harder to find than the afikomen, but well worth a look is "A Taste of Passover," originally broadcast on PBS. Theodore Bikel hosts this celebration of Passover traditions, rituals and music. The hour-long program features Harriet Chasia Segal (who debates Bikel on what constitutes the perfect matzo ball) and the New England Conservatory's Jewish Music Ensemble, Medieval Music Ensemble, Symphony Orchestra, Children's Chorus and Gospel Choir (as well as a klezmer band). Bikel performs dramatic readings, traditional songs and shares his Passover memories.
Three fine programs, "A Passover Seder: A Video for the Family," featuring Elie Wiesel, the Israeli claymation production, "The Animated Haggadah," and "A Rugrats Passover," in which the Passover story is recast with baby Tommy as Moses and the dread Angelica as Pharoah, are available from Amazon on VHS, the unleavened bread of video formats.