Directed by Tim Hill
Screenplay by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio
James Marsden as Fred O’Hare
Russell Brand as E.B. (voice)
Kaley Cuoco as Sam O’Hare
Hank Azaria as Carlos / Phil (voice)
Gary Cole as Henry O’Hare
Elizabeth Perkins as Bonnie O’Hare
Hugh Laurie as E.B.’s Dad (voice)
Running time: 95 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG for some mild rude humor.
Bunny Talks, And B.S. Walks (All Over A Paying Audience)
Director Tim Hill certainly believes in setting the bar high for himself. His new Easter-themed fantasy Hop crowns a powerhouse trilogy of revolutionary children’s entertainment. Who would have thought he could top both Alvin And The Chipmunks and Garfield: A Tale Of Two Kitties with this master stroke of candy-colored anthropomorphic animal mayhem?
Leftover April Fool’s, anybody?
Perhaps the best way to take Hop is as an illustration of why Easter movies never eclipsed Christmas or Halloween pictures in variety, style, or enduring popularity. Leaving questions of religious observance aside, there is simply not enough mythology to be woven around a rabbit delivering candy to children once a year. This movie certainly tries, but its many small successes are too isolated and infrequent to hold any kind of story together.
Yes, this is a movie for children. Even so, it is geared toward children who are not very smart. The core premise – about a young rabbit who decides he has dreams beyond the job of Easter Bunny – would have been fun on its own. Add to that an uprising of fuzzy yellow chicks, who believe bunnies have controlled Easter for too long… okay, that’s a pretty cute idea for a movie. Then the director threw his neat little fable about holiday icons to the dogs, by having little E. B. (Russell Brand) hop away from home, into the live-action Real World. Now the film is caught for good somewhere between Alvin And The Chipmunks and G-Force, without much promise of rising above either. What else would a cheeky, precocious young mammal do but latch on to free-spirited slacker Fred O’Hare (James Marsden? How was Nicolas Cage not begging for this role?) whose destiny is to fulfill his life’s dream via Easter Bunny magic? It’s a buddy comedy… sort of… as the bunny yearns to be a rock and roll drummer out in the real world, with a little help from talent guru David Hasselhoff (who does a delightful impression of William Shatner doing a delightful impression of David Hasselhoff).
The movie meanders at length through Fred’s dead-end life, as E. B.’s antics continually sabotage his attempts to hack it in the working world. The animation of the bunny is so slick that it hardly seems necessary to introduce a human character simply to watch him take pratfalls. All the while we keep wishing we could go back to the story of the magical chocolate factory on Easter Island. That’s where the Easter Bunny lives, you know. Not bad, eh?
Whichever chocolate vendor was the first to arrange a marketing tie-in with this film should profit handsomely. This is actually not a dig at the gross commercialization of Easter, but rather an observation of how irresistibly yummy all the mountains of candy in the movie look. Kudos to the animators and layout artists. When the story drags, you will probably find yourself daydreaming of the adorable little factory full of chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks.
Insistent cuteness is the only thing keeping Hop afloat. Countless little details and sight gags may keep you precariously perched in your seat, not quite bored enough to leave. Hugh Laurie and Hank Azaria round out a spirited voice cast, even as the real-world players including Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, and Chelsea Handler (really?) can do little but lame things up. The Easter chicks are the only consistently funny characters, and are animated with such physical nuance and attention to detail that it seems a crime they are not in the movie more. They paint Easter eggs with the care of artisans. They drive little egg-shaped trucks around the Easter factory, hauling pallets of gummy candy and cream-filled chocolate away for shipping. They ruffle their little tails and stubby wings in agitation. They consistently call attention to how thrown-together the rest of the movie seems to be.
The same goes for a trio of characters known as the Pink Berets, a search-and-intercept force of three dangerously huggable bunnies sent to track E. B. down in the real world. They flip, kick, and tumble with ninja-like precision, stopping only occasionally to let out a precious little sneeze. Unfortunately, like all the other highlights of Hop, they are momentary distractions from a bland and hastily realized romp.
Even children – in fact, especially children – deserve entertainment with a certain amount of thought put into it. Hop bears numerous clever touches, but this is not the same as having a story that builds, maintains itself, and ultimately goes somewhere. At virtually no point do these characters have anything at all to lose. They skip airily through brief episodes of conflict, and ultimately they don’t seem to learn anything, except that following your dreams does not entail any sacrifice. It is never too early for kids to learn that giving up certain things may allow them to pursue even better things. They can handle it, trust me. Stop sending the message that you can have it all for free, and eat candy the whole time, if you dream hard enough. Aren’t people always saying that is what’s wrong with kids today? The only other conceivable message of this movie is “always make friends with talking animals,” and what sane person would pass up that chance?
Off the soapbox now: the real problem is not an insipid and careless underlying message. The movie simply is not funny for more than a couple of minutes at a time. More slapstick, better dialogue, higher stakes… even if history only has room for one really entertaining movie about the Easter Bunny, the makers of this movie had the potential in their hands and blew it. No offense is meant to your kids if they like this movie. It is not, however, likely to stick in their minds or inspire them to tell great stories of their own. Parents, who presumably know better about what makes good entertainment, will find themselves tempted to snooze. Just bring enough chocolate to amuse yourself and the kiddos.