“Hop,” the new animation/live action hybrid from the folks that brought us this past summer’s surprise smash “Despicable Me,” comes with a premise so ingeniously prepackaged that you’ll wonder why nobody had come up with it before. A canny hodgepodge of “The Santa Clause,” “Elf,” and a handful of other holiday classics (or would-be classics), it hopes to do for Easter what these films did for Christmas, complete with zippy visual effects and a chewy moral center about the nature of family and togetherness.
There’s just one problem: “Hop” is totally fucking terrible. Paced like a sluggish candy commercial, with an emphasis on zippy visual effects and dated-before-you-exit-the-theater pop culture references over such cumbersome nuisances like story, character, or theme, “Hop” is barely watchable. It’s the kind of so-cute-it’s-sickening slop that could only be coughed up around an equally sentimental and commercialized holiday, like a sugary cough drop dislodged from your throat.
At its core, “Hop” has a charming and clever enough concept; it looks to expose the lineage and inner lives of the mythological Easter Bunnies. It seems they have a Willy Wonka-ish laboratory and factory in one of the Easter Islands (get it?) and that the current Easter Bunny, Mr. Bunny (Hugh Laurie) is about to cede his singular post over to his son, E.B. (Russell Brand). It’s just that E.B. wants to be a drummer in a rock’n’roll band instead. So, defying his father’s wishes, he uses the Easter Bunny teleportation channels (yes, seriously) to zap himself to Hollywood so he can follow his dream.
At this point, “Hop” switches from being an animated film to one of those animated/live action combos, and things get infinitely more stupid. James Marsden plays a slacker who accidentally hits E.B. with his car and the two strike up an unlikely relationship. All of this stuff is really tedious, “Turner and Hooch“-level comedy, with E.B. getting into trouble and Marsden forced to more or less mug as an enraged human.
Swirling around this central, mismatched duo stuff is a small orbit of asinine subplots, which include (but are not limited to) a trio of bunny ninjas sent to retrieve E.B., a coup d’état engineered by an embittered chick (played by Hank Azaria with a Spanish accent), and a prolonged cameo by David Hasselhoff as a non-drunk, non-hamburger craving talent show host.
None of this is particularly compelling, mind you, and for a 95-minute-long movie this thing c-r-a-w-l-s. The one marginally compelling idea, which shows up about halfway through the movie and acts to drive a lot of the film’s final act, is blown by being revealed before the film’s title card. This concept (Marsden wanting to be the first human Easter Bunny) is neither properly explained nor explored, it just seems to pop up out of nowhere because all of the narrative threads proved to be dead-ends.
“Hop” was directed by Tim Hill, who also did the first “Alvin and the Chipmunks” film, and feels like it was put together by a filmmaker (and this term is generous) who has only a cursory knowledge of the craft. Every shot is over lit, like all of the actors and characters are standing directly underneath a dentist’s lamp, and the animated figures look like they were stuck in by a scrapbook hobbyist, you can almost see the nearly-invisible lines left by the Scotch tape. The movie’s central theme, about family togetherness and how fathers can be dicks even in Easter Bunny land, show a similar lack of subtlety, grace, or texture. They’re as brightly colored and easy to spot as an uncreatively hidden Easter egg.
The animation itself is livelier when divorced from the live action elements but still far from exemplary. Even though Illumination Entertainment, the folks behind “Despicable Me,” produced the film, the animation and effects work was handled by the folks from Rhythm & Hues, a studio that’s been known for bringing animals to life, rising to prominence thanks to 1995’s “Babe” (and more recently on films like the “Cats and Dogs” movies, including last summer’s regrettable sequel). E.B. is a well-designed character, and thanks to Brand has a wiry personality and gift for gab, but he never goes beyond being a cuddly cipher; a stuffed toy in a “grungy” flannel shirt. Unlike “Rango,” which boasts wonderful design work and a flourishing, fully fleshed out world, “Hop” only aims for awe, with an emphasis on awwwww.
And that might be the most painful thing about “Hop:” it’s desire to have an identifiable attitude without going through the work to actually establish any kind of tone or pace or atmosphere. There’s the naked ambition of wanting to be a new holiday classic but the only thing that backs this idea up is glittery technology and some poorly chosen pop songs. The entire experience is like cracking open a plastic Easter Egg and finding nothing inside. [D]