Hoppythankyoumoreplease, by Matt Warren
Voice acting is weird. One day you’re a talking glass of orange juice in Toaster Strudels commercial, the next you’re barking orders in platoon of videogame space marines. It’s one thing to be a journeyman voice actor like Townsend Coleman or Maurice LaMarche. It’s quite another to be a movie star like Russell Brand, corralled by agents and managers and Universal Studios into giving voice to a CGI rabbit. But such is the case with the new Easter-themed kids’ movie Hop. What goes through Brand’s head when he’s locked inside the recording booth, forced to do 30+ takes of the line “No Dad, I don’t WANT to be the Easter Bunny!”? Especially when the script calls for the line to be delivered with all the earnestness and conviction of Vivien Leigh declaring that, with God as her witness, she’ll never go hungry again?
I bet it’s easy. Why? Because “No Dad, I don’t WANT to be the Easter Bunny!” isn’t just a silly line from a goofy kids movie, it’s a life philosophy. In fact, ever since seeing Hop, “No Dad, I don’t WANT to be the Easter Bunny” has become something of a personal mantra; a refrain I call upon to give me strength as I attempt to navigate the perplexing ins and outs of this crazy world. It’s like an updated version of Frank Costanza’s “Serenity now!” It works in any situation. Caught masturbating at work? “No Dad, I don’t WANT to be the Easter Bunny!” Girlfriend cheating on you with Sparkletts guy? “No Dad, I don’t WANT to be the Easter Bunny!” Giant monster eating your house? “No Dad, I don’t WANT to be the Easter Bunny!” Dad trying to get you to be the Easter Bunny? “No Dad, I don’t WANT to be the Easter Bunny!” It’s that simple.
In general, Easter is a woefully underrated holiday. It contains all the candy-acquisition fun of Halloween, minus the sacrilege. I mean, c’mon, I’m just tryin’ to get some chocolate, not burn in hell for all eternity. And it’s a shame there aren’t more Easter-themed movies. Sure, there’s Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny and Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence, but those are the only two I can think of. Which is why the time is ripe for Hop, which, if you think about it, is basically just a sequel to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
Hop tells the story of E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand), the teenage son of the Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Laurie), and heir-apparent to the elder rabbit’s entire candy-distribution empire. Together, father and son oversee a massive, Wonka-esque sweets factory located below ground on (duh) Easter Island. The oompa loompas of the factory are an army of adorable yellow chicks headed by the Easter Bunny’s second-in-command, Carlos (Hank Azaria, using his stock “Spicy Latin” voice.)
As his eighteenth birthday nears, E.B. bristles at the idea of being made his father’s replacement, and decides to run away to Hollywood to pursue his dream of becoming a rock drummer. Once in California, he crosses paths with Frank O’Hare (James Marsden), a chronically underemployed Van Nuys resident in desperate need of some life direction. Only mildly shocked that his new acquaintance is a talking cartoon rabbit who can literally shit jellybeans, Frank forms a bond with E.B., and their newfound dynamic quickly falls into the sort of semi-antagonistic friendship familiar to anyone who has ever seen any movie in which two dudes are forced to work together to accomplish something.
Back on Easter Island, Papa Bunny discovers that his son is missing and dispatches “The Pink Berets” to find him. The Pink Berets are basically to the Easter Bunny what Opus Dei is to the Vatican, only even more adorable. Meanwhile, a jealous Carlos begins plotting a—ahem—chicken coup in order wrest control of the Cadbury-Industrial Complex away from the ruling bunny class.
Will E.B. return in time to put down the fluffy yellow uprising? Will he achieve his dreams of rock and roll superstardom? And what of Frank? Will he ever find a job suited his somewhat questionable interest in giving candy out to random children who are not his own? Well… I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say that if we can have a black president, a human Easter Bunny isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility.
And you know what? Maybe I was just in a good mood or something, but I really, really liked Hop. Sure, it’s not Pixar or anything, but it works. The plot is well constructed, the performances are energetic, and the animation is crisp and whimsical. The story may be the typical follow-your-dreams-type kid movie stuff, but it’s done well. Every character trait and running gag manages to pay off, and the characters’ motivations are believable and consistent. Not to mention the fact that E.B. and Frank have one of the most plausible, engaging friendships of the entire Bromance Epoch. The characters have real chemistry, recalling at times Eddie Valiant and Roger Rabbit: the gold standard of animated rabbit/put-upon human pairings.
Hop also has sly, surprisingly subtle sense of humor that caused me to literally LOL several times throughout the film. Not exactly what I was expecting from the director of Alvin and the Chipmunks. The best laughs all come from Brand’s line readings, including the aforementioned “No Dad, I don’t WANT to be the Easter Bunny!” E.B. turns out to be the perfect vehicle for Brand’s—ahem, again—brand of slimy limey glam rock braggadocio. And Marsden, an actor I’ve always liked a lot, is equally effective. Marsden commits fully to the even the silliest bits of this deeply silly movie, like pretending to be a ventriloquist while singing and dancing along to a school-play rendition of “I Want Candy.”
The live-action segments of Hop are fairly bland, visually. But the action is clear, and everything at least cuts together okay. Faint praise, but you’d be surprised how choppy a lot of these kids’ movies are. And the animated portions of Hop look great, with loving attention paid to every last tactile detail of the candy factory’s output, from the seam running down the middle of a chocolate Easter Bunny, to the rubbery yellow surface of a marshmallow peep.
Hop is a nice springtime confection—an energetic family movie full of well-crafted characters and enthusiastic performances. It’s definitely worth a lazy Sunday afternoon at the movies with your favorite niece, nephew, or kidnapped offspring. I give it three full Amber Alerts out of five.