“Hop” would more accurately be titled “Stumble,” a disappointing follow-up from the producers of one of last year’s best family films, “Despicable Me.” It is just another story of a hapless live action character who has his life turned upside-down by an animated animal, as in “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” also from director Tim Hill. Character design by New Yorker artist Peter de Sève and some subversively cheeky asides from Russell Brand are not enough to make up for a dull script, pointless celebrity cameos, and an overall nutritional content lower than a stale Peep.
As a little bunny on Easter Island, E.B. looks up to his father, the Easter Bunny (aristocratically voiced by “House’s” Hugh Laurie). He is dazzled by the vast underground factory. Enticingly elaborate assembly lines produce all the candy for the annual Easter basket delivery, with the help of second-in-command a big, fluffy yellow chick named Carlos (voice of Hank Azaria). But when he grows up, E.B. (Brand) no longer wants to take over his father’s egg scepter and delivery duties; as the song goes, he just wants to bang on his drums all day. Just before he is about to go on his first delivery, he runs away to the place where dreams come true: Hollywood.
Fred (James Marsden) is another son whose lack of focus and responsibility is a disappointment to his father (Gary Cole). His frustrated parents throw him out of the house to force him to get a job. Sam, his sympathetic sister (“The Big Bang Theory’s” Kaley Cuoco), gets him a job interview and a place to stay, house-sitting in a mansion to care for her boss’s dogs. He literally runs into E.B., and takes him to the mansion to recover.
E.B. creates chaos and frustration for Fred in various locales including the mansion, the job interview, and a school play. But E.B. also inspires Fred by validating his childhood memory of seeing the Easter Bunny’s egg-shaped flying ship, pulled by a flock of yellow chicks. If E.B. does not want to be the Easter Bunny, Fred resolves that he will do the job. But someone else also has his eye on the post – Carlos.
“Hop” repeatedly gets in its own way by establishing intriguing set-ups without any satisfying resolution. It is pointless to have Fred interviewed by a notoriously outrageous comedian (Chelsea Handler as “Mrs. Beck”) if she is not going to have anything funny to do. All she does is look a little annoyed when he is late and show him around the office. And it is not much better to have the “Pink Berets,” commando bunnies sent to Los Angeles to bring E.B. back, without finding something clever or interesting for them to do. They’re super-effective and powerful until for no special reason they are not. It all feels slack and sloppy, less a story than one under-written set-up after another, cut and pasted together with little sense of moving forward.
It has a poor sense of its audience as well. Kids will not understand or care that E.B.’s first destination is the Playboy Mansion because he is “a sexy bunny” or recognize Hef’s voice on the intercom. Even adults are more likely to find that encounter more skeezy than humorous. David Hasselhoff is a good sport about spoofing himself as the host of a talent show, but how many in the audience will get the KITT joke? When Carlos offers to take over the Easter Bunny duties, the only reason the boss turns him down is a broad and dismissive “a chick can’t be the Easter bunny.” Compared to the generosity and insight shining through the comedy of “Despicable Me,” this seems clumsy and thoughtless – and not much of a message for kids about tolerance.
The Easter Bunny has nothing like the secular appeal or extensive mythology of Santa Claus and this movie does nothing to make us wish he did. Despite some surface appeal, it is as hollow in the center as a chocolate rabbit.
Translation: Some schoolyard language, “sexy bunny” joke at Playboy mansion, mild cartoon-style peril
Family discussion: Why do Fred and E.B. have a hard time pleasing their fathers? Which machine in the factory was your favorite?
If you like this, try: “The Santa Clause”