Hop (*½)

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"Hop" fails on the animated level...

Following their breakthrough and debut success with 2010′s “Despicable Me”, Illumination Entertainment and their upstart animation division have tried to recreate the fun and unexpected joy that their first film captured with the Easter- themed “Hop”. Mixing live action with animation, “Hop” tries really, really hard to make you like it. The odds are that if you are old enough to read this review, you likely won’t all that much.

As a young boy, or I suppose that would be…hare, E.B. (voice of Russell Brand) has been born into a lineage of Easter Bunnies. His father (voice of Hugh Laurie) is close to retiring and is ready to groom his son for his destined path in life. Unfortunately for Dad, E.B. is deeply embedded in a late-teenage/young-adult malaise of wondering about self and where he wants to go with his life. His passion is playing the drums and he is exceptionally good at it – a fact that makes his father upset and disappointed.

Of course, if I went through life named after the thing I was destined to become, I might be a bit resentful also, but we move on…

Dad (I don’t think he has an actual name) grows more and more unable to trust that E.B. is ready to take over the role and leans on his trusted sidekick Carlos (voice of Hank Azaria), a small yellow chick, eager and ready to assist Dad with the transition in any way possible. Carlos, and his gang of little chicks (yes…just like the minions from “Despicable Me”) work tirelessly in the factory and Carlos senses that although he may not be a bunny, he can assume the mantle of the Easter Bunny once Dad retires.

Still believing that E.B. is going to come through with his birthright and inherited lot in life, Dad is shocked to find that E.B. has run away on the day of his big announcement. Traveling through the magic rabbit hole, E.B. ends up in Hollywood, where he knows he can be a star. His dream is to show his father that his obsession with music is real and that he has the talent to make a name for himself.  Wandering the streets of Los Angeles, E.B. runs into, or gets run over by, Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) and forms an unlikely k  nship
with his human.

Fred is a lost soul himself, over 30 and still residing at home after another failed job opportunity has passed him by. His sister, Sam (“Big Bang Theory”‘s Kaley Cuoco), makes good money and despite being burned time and time again in her efforts to help Fred, she nonetheless puts him up in a mansion she is housesitting for and arranges a job interview. Saddled with E.B., Fred not only has to hide the fact that E.B. is a talking, living, breathing bunny that plays a mean drum solo, but also is the only one E.B. can rely on to help him with his dreams of being a superstar.

I have not done the research on this, but I do not recall there being an actual “Easter Bunny” movie before. Sure, there have been countless Easter specials and Easter Bunny-themed cartoons on TV, but “Hop” may be one of the first films to tackle the story of the Easter Bunny and his delivery of eggs and candy to all the good children of the land. Concept sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so.

What works here at times is James Marsden, a truly likable guy, who plays up the goofball charm here with more passion and eagerness than the director could ever ask for. He is infinitely watchable and Russell Brand puts everything he can into his voicing of the anthropomorphic talking bunny, E.B. Hank Azaria stands out with exceptional voice work as the ethically challenged Carlos, and scenes between Marsden and Kaley Cuoco work fine. With crisp animation and a kinetic pace, it is easy to start to get intoxicated with the film, especially its first half hour or so. The screenplay by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio is not content however with retreading a familiar Santa Claus storyline. Rather, they seem to grow tired of the concept and start spiking in gags and desperate bits that fall flat and soon outweigh all that’s good and passable on screen.

The model here, as it seems to be for most animated films nowadays, is to appeal to children’s sensibilities, while throwing an occasional nod and wink to the adults watching with their kids. As kids are regaling at E.B.’s quick wit and fast talk and Marsden’s nutty
man-child behavior, the adults are given gags featuring a voiceover cameo by (ahem) Hugh Hefner, making his debut in children’s features, and comedienne Chelsea Handler (?!), who plays the owner of a video game testing company (?!?). Most embarrassingly, the film completely shuts down and loses all sense of itself with an embarrassingly bad sequence featuring David Hasselhoff as the host of “Hoff Knows Talent”. You see, the only option which apparently exists for a talented drumming bunny rests on an all-or-nothing audition for the ‘Hoff.  No, I don’t really understand either.

I wanted to like “Hop” and in the proper conversation can say nice things about it. Honestly, much of it is harmless, but so often the screenplay misfires or tries so hard to elicit laughter that you are essentially watching another Santa Claus-trying-to-get-ready-by-Christmas storyline play out in a tired and shopworn way. “Hop” looks good, is colorful and engaging visually, but can only ride that goodwill so far.  By the middle of “Hop”, I ran out of energy, started falling into a lazy haze, and wanted a nap.

And truth be told, with the amount of Easter candy I ingest on a yearly basis, my reaction to the movie mirrored my feelings about 5pm or so on Easter Sunday. I am full, I keep eating, and then end up with a stomach ache, wondering why I put myself through that.

Oh, the irony.

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My love of film began at the age of 7 when my parents not only gave me a television, but HBO to boot. My first theatrical experience was "E.T." My first movie cry came with "Old Yeller". "The Usual Suspects" made me decide to make movies and film writing a priority in life, even knowing the twist beforehand. My passion for film, music, and pop culture in general can be isolated to my youth. My love for film took root in high school. Above all else, movies and art, in any form, exist to entertain and I remain much more interested in how art affects others, more than with myself. But I love the conversation and to have a chance to share my thoughts and be a part of the community here is a unique and enriching experience.