Hop review

Russell Brand voices the Easter bunny in Hop, the new movie from the director of Alvin And The Chipmunks. But with The Hoff squeezed in, too, is this a movie with a broader appeal than it might at first seem?

Hop, for want of a better phrase, is a bit of a hodgepodge. On the one hand, it’s got ideas of appealing to parents, throwing in an unsubtle, but no less amusing cameo from David Hasselhoff, and there’s also the casting Russell Brand as the voice of the lead bunny (which in itself apparently generated outtakes that we’ll not get to see on the DVD in a hurry).

It also throws in the Playboy Mansion, and surely becomes the first and only U-certificate film of all time in the UK to borrow the vocal talents of Hugh Heffner.

And then, as if attached by bungee rope to its family ideals, it’s soon bouncing back to relatively unambitious, far safer territory, with the story of, at heart, two sons that have disappointed their fathers. You can probably fill in most of the narrative blanks from there.

The first son is EB, the son of the Easter Bunny, voiced by Russell Brand. He’s heir apparent to his father’s job, but has no interest in taking it. Instead, EB dreams of playing guitar, and takes matters into his own hands, escaping from Easter Island and arriving in the midst of Hollywood. There, he crosses paths with James Marsden’s Fred, once a kid who could do anything, now a grown-up who can’t get a job. Needless to say, daddy (Gary Cole) doesn’t approve.

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I couldn’t help but fear pretty much from the start that Hop was bogging itself down with story threads, and yet it still wasn’t done there. After all, back on Easter Island, Carlos the Chick is fed up with being second in command, and is planning a coup d’état.

Meanwhile, the film throws in a grade school Easter performance, a talent contest, and a fractious central relationship between Fred and EB. All of these need to be resolved come the end of 95 minutes and the movie struggles to comfortably pack it all in. It certainly feels longer than it actually is.

Furthermore, Hop also works better away from Easter Island than on it. The machinations of the Easter candy making process are explained at length (with Cadbury sponsorship, we spotted. If Cadbury workers are looking to see where Kraft is planned to send all their jobs, then they might want a word with the Easter Bunny, too), but the divisions between Carlos and the Easter Bunny, and the crowd scenes full of chicks, are ultimately brief and wasted. It ultimately robs the film of a strong antagonist, which it really could use (even the pink berets, teased throughout the film, are pretty useless in the scheme of things).

Equally frustrating is the drawn out relationship between Fred and EB, which only begins to resolve itself after a contrived sequence at a job interview for the former. The distrust goes on for a little too long and you find yourself beckoning at the film to get a move on.

Yet, when Hop finds its footing, and it does take some time, then it’s a very efficient box ticker. The animation design, for starters, is terrific, and EB is a wonderfully realised central character. Even those alien to the charms of Russell Brand are likely to find him a perfect and welcome match by the end of the film, and James Marsden proves once more, as he did in Enchanted, that he’s more than capable of acting opposite special effects.

The rest of the cast barely get a look in, mind, save for the aforementioned Hoff cameo. Most disappointing is how wasted Gary Cole is. He’s lumbered with lines that he’d have creased half the audience with if he’d been allowed the wink at them he perfected with The Brady Bunch films. Here, he’s little choice but to play it entirely straight and serious. A waste of a great talent.

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Director Tim Hill, meanwhile, is no stranger to mixing live-action and animation to box office effect and he’s following a similar template here (see: Garfield, and Alvin And The Chipmunks). To his credit, he stages a few impressive scenes throughout Hop. The moment when Fred’s sister, Sam, picks EB up, in particular, is really very, very well done. But for the most part, there’s an eye on delivering a cute, quite safe family movie, and one that’s likely to be very successful.

Surprisingly, Hill’s film is low on genuinely funny humour, generating a few chuckles, but not much more than that. That leaves the rest of Hop with a lot of work to do and it never fully carries it off. There’s more plot than the film seems to require, and there’s little subtlety in its attempt to satiate both the young and older members of the audience.

The end result is a movie, as is perhaps right, that’s going to win more fans amongst children. Certainly our 7-year-old test subject was impressed. He didn’t laugh much, but declared himself happily entertained by what he’d seen. For me, I just felt that there was more fun to have with the concept here and that it really could have used a little more room to explore, for instance, EB’s burgeoning music career. As it is, it seems that there just wasn’t enough room left in the film.

Hop is a decent effort and there are moments when you sense it had more in the tank than the end result will testify to. But as it is, it’s a passable enough way to keep the anklebiters content, even if adults will be feasting on the few scraps of Hoff that they’re ultimately given to enjoy. Three stars, then. But only just.

With thanks to Cineworld Birmingham.

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3 out of 5