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Hop

Director: Tim Hill
Cast: James Marsden, Russell Brand, Kelly Cuoco, Hank Azaria, Hugh Laurie, Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, David Hasselhoff

(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 1 Apr 2011 (General release); UK theatrical: 1 Apr 2011 (General release); 2011)

Free Spirits

Santa Claus has long had the holiday movie market in a stranglehold. But how many movies does a jolly fat man in a red suit need, anyway? It’s time that the Easter Bunny got his due. At least, this is the premise of Hop.


A mix of live action and adorable computer generated critters, the movie attempts to infuse Easter with the sense of magic and wonder generally reserved for Christmas. Aimed at children, it’s the kind of movie you won’t mind being dragged to the theater to see, in part because there’s an entertaining Fatal Attraction reference that will be lost on younger viewers.


It begins more happily. On Easter Island, young rabbit EB (voiced by Russell Brand) is about to inherit the coveted position of Easter Bunny. The job entails flying around the world each Easter Eve, delivering baskets full of jellybeans and chocolate candies to all the sleeping children of the world. (Except China, revealed in a cutaway as not yet receptive to the Bunny’s charms.) Alas, EB is a free spirit who dreams of being a drummer in a rock band, and the pressure of his impending duties is too much to bear. When he tells his father, the current Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie), they have a big fight, and EB runs away to Hollywood.


Upon arriving in this (not so) real world, EB meets Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) and cons him into letting him bunk with him. Fred is a lot like EB: he’s unemployed and living with his parents (Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins) until he finds the “right” job. When his family stages an intervention, he resists, and his younger sister (Tiffany Espensen) cracks that she was adopted because Fred is such a disappointment, a claim no one denies.


Fred’s relationship with EB is both based on his lack of resources and his tendency to prevaricate. That is, he’s not too bothered by EB’s own lies and manipulations to get the gullible Fred into doing his bidding. EB makes trouble for Fred repeatedly, for instance, spoiling a job interview set up by Fred’s sister Sam (Kelly Cuoco). EB’s ability to speak only briefly bothers Fred, who then assumes he has to keep this secret from the rest of the human world.


While Fred and EB become reluctant friends, things are not all roses and sunshine back on Easter Island, where race and class inequities afflict the anthropomorphized animals. The massive factory where all the Easter candy is made is staffed exclusively by chicks, who are second-class citizens. They can be trusted associates or a valuable labor force, but the very idea of a chick being the Easter Bunny makes the Easter Bunny laugh out loud. Head chick Carlos (Hank Azaria) wants the title, and sees an opportunity when EB goes missing. He’s willing to take the job by force if necessary, leading the chicks to revolt by storming the factory. If Carlos gets his way, Easter Baskets will contain crickets and earthworms instead of cream-filled eggs. Clearly, there’s a reason why these chicks must remain subordinate.


Such themes may keep adults interested, while kids might find the frantic action pleasing.
Some asides suggest the makers were laughing as they made the film. EB lands in L.A. with a map of celebrity homes and crime scenes, and Fred almost crushes the bunny with a stone, to end his suffering when he’s been hit by a car. Frequently acting with no one but a space where the rabbit will be, Marsden makes his eyes bug out appropriately. At least he recognizes the Blind Boys of Alabama, who show up to provide the bunny a chance to drum with humans who can’t see him: chances are that most of the viewing audience will have no idea who the Blind Boys are. In a crasser part, David Hasselhoff plays himself: he doesn’t wonder for a moment about this chatty bunny because, as he explains, his best friend is a talking car.


Unlike Kit of old, the computer animation in Hop is inventive. In scenes where everything is animated, as in the Willie Wonka-like candy factory, the characters seem almost substantive, waddling and hopping among assembly lines, vats full of bubbling chocolate, and a jellybean waterfall.


During scenes that combine live actors and animated characters, Hop tends to get sentimental. You’ll learn lots of important lessons about following your dreams, being true to yourself, and not abandoning your friends to squads of highly trained ninja bunnies (these girls don’t speak, unlike the boy bunnies). But the movie also comes up with some earnest laughs, usually at the expense of the so-called adults.

Rating:

Brent McKnight lives in Seattle, and is working feverishly to finish his degree in creative writing through the University of New Orleans Low-Residency MFA Program. His thesis is a post-apocalyptic, zombie, spaghetti western, much to the chagrin of most of his advisors. He likes dogs, beards, and Steven Seagal, and rants about movies at thelastthingisee.blogspot.com and BeyondHollywood.com. Recently he fulfilled a lifelong goal, appearing as an extra in a zombie movie.


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