Once upon a time, seasonal event films were a staple of every growing child’s diet. Every Easter, Christmas and even Valentine’s Day, there would be a steady stream of stories about how Santa or the Easter Bunny was in imminent threat of losing the holiday, and it was up to one very special person to save the day. For children of the 1970s and 1980, the Rankin/Bass television special such as Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971), The First Easter Rabbit (1976) and The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town (1977) counted amongst some of the most watched viewing on the small screen for children everywhere. Providing much more than something to watch between stuffing their faces with chocolate eggs, the decline of the specials saw the rise of generic direct-to-DVD features, substituting whatever franchise happened to be popular at the time. Director Tim Hill (Alvin and the Chipmunks) brings the tradition back to the silver screen with Hop.
On Easter Island, young rabbit E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand, Despicable Me) is the heir apparent to the Easter Bunny throne, but he has other ideas. Determined to make a career out of playing the drums, his father’s (voiced by Hugh Laurie, House) disapproval drives E.B. to runaway to Hollywood. There he encounters the equally hapless Fred O’Hare (James Marsden, The Box), a slacker still living at home dreaming that he has not yet found the right calling in life. Despite hitting it off on the wrong foot (paw?), the pair help each other realise their dreams of glory and ultimately work to save Easter.
“From the director of Alvin and the Chipmunks” (not to mention Garfield 2) is perhaps not the most awe-inspiring tag to grace a promotional poster, although their continued popularity (with a third installment, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked, due out later this year) gives them a marketing appeal well beyond what common sense would dictate. Yet Tim Hill’s expertise goes beyond pairing the animated with the real, earning his bones on cult animated series Rocko’s Modern Life and more recently, SpongeBob SquarePants. While nowhere near as edgy as the Nickelodeon series, and certainly not as outright funny as either of those shows, Hop maintains a certain level of fun and cuteness that is hard to completely dismiss. From the opening shot in which a proportionally small E.B. plays drums atop an Easter Island moai statue, there is straight-shot attempt at eliciting ‘awws’ and ‘oohs’ from the audience in what the Japanese might call kawaii. Everybody loves bunnies and chicklets right?
Hop is infused with the same sense of the modern that has spoiled many an animated series of late, attempting to ‘funkify’ beloved characters such as Yogi Bear by 20% or so. Apart from the obvious comparison of the ‘rock ‘n roll’ Alvin and the Chipmunks, a more apt comparison might be to the Cats & Dogs franchise, in which the audience is exposed to a secret animal world existing parallel to our own. Hop is undoubtedly extremely derivative, borrowing a storyline from practically every Santa Claus or Easter Bunny film that has ever graced the screen. Yet despite this, and the occasionally condescending and over-the-top plot ‘twists’ and acting, Hop manages to mostly land on its two large feet thanks to a sense of fun. Hop knows that it is silly, and the appearance of David Hasselhoff parodying his own America’s Got Talent appearances is in this spirit of the show. There are definitely some cringe-worthy moments in Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch’s ‘modern clever-clever’ screenplay – and James Marsden seems to be slumming it until the release of the Straw Dogs remake, and multi-voiced Hank Azaria now seems to be permanently stuck on ‘that Hispanic voice he does’ – those imbued with a sense of the chocolatey spirit are likely to come away with at least a little spring in their step.
The Reel Bits: Despite treading familiar ground cautiously, and inevitably tainting the timeless quality of Easter specials with an unnecessarily modern approach, Hop represents a welcome and fun return to the holiday tradition of humans and animals working together to save capitalism. U.S.A! U.S.A!
HOP was released in Australia on 7 April 2011 by Universal Pictures.