Friday, April 1, 2011

Hop

Tim Hill got his first crack commingling live-action humans with CGI cutesy-critters with MUPPETS IN SPACE.  The former storyboard artist returned to writing for kid television in the mid-2000s (“Kenny the Shark,” “Spongebob Squarepants”) before jumping behind the camera again for GARFIELD: TALE OF TWO KITTIES and ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS.  Children don’t know his name, but they love his stuff.  It’s loud, kinetic, colorful, and peppered with potty humor.

Hill caters to that audience again with HOP by tapping underutilized source material from the Easter season (that, and it’s not 3-D).  Other holidays have been done to death (POLAR EXPRESS, NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS), so it’s time the Easter Bunny was thrust back into the spotlight.   Only HOP isn’t so much concerned with the Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie) as with his son, E.B. (Russell Brand), a flannel-shirted rabbit percussionist who wants a music career instead of his father’s gig shucking eggs and confections. 

E.B. follows his heart to Hollywood, but his rock and roll dream is deflated when slacker human Fred O’Hare (James Mardsen) hits him with a car.  E.B. exaggerates his injuries until Fred lets him convalesce in the mansion he’s house-sitting—and where the wild thing naturally makes mischief of one kind and another.  The next morning, E.B. bungles Fred’s job interview while avoiding the Pink Berets Bunnies his father sends after him (they’re this movie’s answer to the MADAGASCAR ninja penguins).  The wascally wabbit winds up jamming with the Blind Boys of Alabama on Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”

Fred escorts E.B. to an American Idol-type talent show audition just to get the hare out of his hair (yeah, I went there).  The judge—David Hasselhoff—isn’t a bit surprised when the animated animal verbally thanks him in lucid English.

“My best friend is a talking car,” Hoff says.

Meanwhile, the holiday gets hectic on Easter Island when Machiavellian chickadee Carlos (Hank Azaria) muscles in on Easter Bunny’s turf.  Despite his ambivalence over the family business, E.B. leaps to dad’s defense, enlisting Fred to thwart the pesky Peep.  Can the ne’er-do-well drummer safeguard Spring and ensure the delivery of cellophane-lined baskets of sugary sweets to the worlds’ true-believing youngsters?  Can E.B. and Fred finally realize their respective talents and appease their disappointed fathers?

Mardsen (Cyclops from the X-MEN saga) is something of a pro here, having done animal schtick before in ENCHANTED.  Kaley Cuoco (8 Simple Rules) plays his supportive sister. “Is she single?” E.B. asks.

Equipped with Rube Goldberg machines and conveyors, Easter Island’s subterranean interior is a knockoff of Willie Wonka’s famous factory.  The hidden message in all this Cadbury chaos—the metaphorical Easter egg, if you will—is that everyone has special talents, but sometimes we must defer our dreams to do what’s right.  Like catching this at a matinee or waiting for DVDHOP was produced by the people behind ICE AGE and DESPICABLE ME.  So if your kids liked those, they won’t fault this furry jaunt. But they might ask about the Pink Berets’ blow-dart tranquilizers.  2 out of 4 stars.

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