Rabbit, run: Just in time for Easter
By Sandie Angulo Chen
Friday, April 1, 2011
With rare exceptions, talking-animal movies are the bottom-dwellers of the cliche ridden family genre. And when those exasperating bears, chipmunks and bunnies are the only CGI characters in an otherwise live-action movie, the result is even more disastrous (see — or rather don’t see — “Yogi Bear”).
“Hop,” a piece of fluff as artificially sweetened as a fuchsia Peep, rises above these low expectations — but only barely. It offers a glimmer of amusement, but only to kids still young enough to believe in the Easter Bunny. Director Tim Hill’s holiday tale opens on Easter Island (ba-da-bum), where the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie) oversees a Willy Wonka-esque factory of chicks and bunnies creating the candy-filled baskets that he delivers to children around the world.
Mr. Bunny plans to retire and pass the reins of his chick-driven fleet to his adolescent son E.B. (Russell Brand), but, as the casting might suggest, the teen rabbit doesn’t want to succeed his pop; he wants to bounce from his magical childhood home and become a drummer. Desperate to escape, he takes a one-way rabbit-hole trip to Hollywood, where E.B. first seeks refuge among the bunnies at the Playboy Mansion. This being a PG movie, he gets only so far as the front gates before eventually winding up on the windshield of another parental disappoint
ment, Fred O’Hare (James Marsden). E.B. guilts Fred into providing a place to stay and helping him with his rock-star dreams.
For Brand, who will play yet another man-child next week in the remake of “Arthur,” it’s not too much of a stretch to play a not-fully-grown-up rabbit, and he’s well-cast as a cartoon character. Like his wife, Katy Perry, Brand can alternately ooze a bawdy sexuality, as in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Get Him to the Greek” and his stand-up routines, or project an innocent kid-friendly charm, as in family fare like “Bedtime Stories” or “Despicable Me.” Unfortunately in “Hop,” Brand’s two personas occasionally clash, as when he creepily flirts with Fred’s pretty blond sister (Kaley Cuoco).
Marsden, however, is startlingly miscast. He’s obviously a decade too old to play an unemployed 20-something slacker still dependent on his concerned mother (Elizabeth Perkins) and frustrated father (Gary Cole). The age discrepancy is jarring — this is, after all, an actor we saw battle Magneto’s mutants 11 years ago in “X-Men.” In an early scene set at the O’Hare family dinner table, I assumed Fred was the loser uncle, rather than the sibling, of his younger sister Sam (actual 20-something Cuoco) and elementary-age sister Alex (Tiffany Espensen).
The movie quickly turns into a stereotypically maudlin tale of two sons desperately seeking their fathers’ approval. E.B. wants to show his father he can be a successful drummer, which means trying out for David Hasselhoff’s talent-search show. The Hoff is ever ready to poke fun at himself, but the joke is just another example of the tired humor shoehorned into the script. Fred, who has believed since a childhood Easter Bunny sighting that his destiny is tied to something bigger than mediocre entry-level jobs, believes he can achieve greatness by keeping E.B. safe.
Back at the Easter Bunny’s South Pacific HQ, right-hand peep, Carlos (expert voice actor Hank Azaria), plans a coup to seize the Bunny empire. Azaria has been honing his over-the-top Spanish accent since “The Birdcage,” so anything he says grabs some laughs. But the fleeting chuckles aren’t enough to broaden “Hop’s” appeal beyond easy-to-please schoolchildren.
For families with movie-loving tots, “Hop” is just palatable enough to consider dropping in the movie basket this year. Just don’t expect it to be a springtime classic.
Contains mild rude humor.