Let’s face it, taking Pixar’s output and the occasional DreamWorks hit from the equation, children’s movies can be hard to get right. For a truly great kids movie, the balance between keeping the children happy and entertaining the adults is the most important thing, otherwise risking utter alienation for half the audience.
You’ll be glad to hear that Hop, the latest attempt at holiday-themed frivolity, strikes that balance more or less consistently. While not a masterpiece in any sense of the word, Hop is often funny, always good natured, and populated with a cast of talented voice actors. But a word of warning: Russell Brand-phobes would do best to stay away, since the bunny doesn’t shut up.
Fred (James Marsden) is an unemployed slacker still living with his parents while his siblings over-achieve around him. EB is the prodigal son of the Easter bunny, but wants nothing but to be a rock star. The two cross paths when Fred, house-sitting for his sister’s boss, hits a runaway EB with his car. After getting over the shock of a meeting talking rabbit, Fred lets him stay, and has to deal with the destruction EB leaves in his wake. After a while, the two inevitably learn about responsibility and growing up.
For those who find Brand’s provocative English dandy act hilarious, Hop presents a nice, sanitised version fit for kids’ enjoyment. He still excretes jelly beans and tries to con his way into the Playboy mansion by being both “a bunny” and “very sexy”, but it’s largely diet-Brand, and his humour is at its best when edited heavily.
Voice-acting might be Brand’s calling, since he hasn’t be this consistently likable for years –if ever. He’s backed up by a straight-faced Marsden, a man who, though liked by almost everyone, rarely gets to be the bride. He delivers an impressive performance here with very little to work with, just proving again that he’s worth more than this kind of film.
There are some bizarre jokes dotted throughout that the film’s under-tens target could never have been expected to get. While these may keep the older members of the audience entertained, and you assume the kids are enjoying the spectacle on offer, it’s a strange way to go in the face of such a twee concept.
Even the set up, with a thirty-year-old slacker struggling in the midst of the recession, seems vastly out of place. It doesn’t exactly hurt the film, as there’s something for everyone, but it’s an odd mixture that threatens to unravel at any point.
It’s also another film that mixes live-action with animation, and it looks better than some. While Yogi Bear never quite gelled the two worlds together successfully, Hop does a much better job, owing more to the chemistry between Marsden and Brand than any great leap in technology. Hugh Laurie is disappointingly stiff in his role as EB’s father, and so the action falters whenever his larger-than-life Easter bunny is on screen.
Sadly, the final act also dispenses with the rapport built up between the two main characters, and the film suffers as a result.
Hop is a self-aware children’s comedy that never becomes annoying, but never quite reaches the heights it strives for. The two main characters are expertly cast, and should direct more comedic roles Marsden’s way, but they’re two good things surrounded by the average, and it finally engulfs them in the final twenty minutes.
A lot of the jokes are supremely funny, but the best ones would certainly go over the heads of the target audience, making for an intriguing film, but one that often falls over those self-made hurdles.
The disc’s extras lean more towards the younger audience than the film itself does. This may explain its disappointingly short featurettes, which explore the experience of the voice-actors. For older viewers, it’s fun to see the likes of Hugh Laurie and Hank Azaria in the recording booth, but you spend little more than a minute in their company.
Sickeningly (for anyone), you get a much longer video diary from Bieber-style moppet Cody Simpson, who proceeds to torture you with his take on I Want Candy. Otherwise, there’s always the disc’s U-Control feature which, from what I can tell, allows tweets from the various characters to appear throughout the movie, GPS tracking, and storyboards.
You can rent or buy Hop at Blockbuster.co.uk.