By Scott Martin
Hop, USA, 2011
Directed by Tim Hill
For those who know me, it’s no secret that I usually find movies like this a bit deplorable. There’s just something about the live-action/animation hybrid that I can’t ever get behind. Be it Yogi Bear (2010), or the Scooby-Doo movies, or the Alvin and the Chipmunks films, I’m always reminded of the glory days when Roger Rabbit was king. But a lesson I learned from reading Roger Ebert prevails in these situations: you judge the movie for what it is and if it achieves what it set out to achieve. Hop is a film that does just that – it’s sweeter than candy, it’s a kid’s movie through and through, but it has enough in it for adults to enjoy. And the most enjoyable thing about the movie? The comedy isn’t once forced. Yes, there are pop culture references every now and then, but it’s all derived from the situation. And situational comedy is always the best option.
E.B., voiced by Russell Brand, is the son of the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie), and is about to be named as his replacement. Of course, E.B. doesn’t want this; he wants to be a drummer in a rock and roll band. An evil chicken named Carlos, voiced brilliantly by Hank Azaria, wants Easter for his own. Meanwhile, in the human world, Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) is a disappointment to his father, Henry (Gary Cole); he’s a twenty-something loafer who can’t seem to find the right job and needs to move out of his parents’ house. E.B. and Fred meet at just the right time in both their lives. What follows is a film not only about growing up, but growing into yourself in the process.
It isn’t the most intelligent film ever made, nor is it the dumbest. Movies like this, when they succeed, fall right in the middle. Nothing controversial, nothing abhorrent from which to shield children, nothing out of the line of duty at all. Just a sweet film with some off-color jokes for the grown-ups who get dragged to it. Being a grown-up (as much as I can consider myself one), I was looking forward to it, so to each their own, certainly. I’ve always had a fondness for Russell Brand and James Marsden. They’ve each become a specific type of actor. Brand usually gets cast in the funny guy roles, because he’s naturally very funny, but he can also do Shakespeare, and he has an intense dramatic presence when he needs to. Here, on the surface at least, it’s mostly just him riffing and being funny; but, underneath, there is a lot of heart to his performance, and he comes off as genuinely warm. It’s the perfect match for the performance of James Marsden, who does the same thing. That works, as Fred and E.B. are written as essentially the same character – one is just kind of furry and cute.
There isn’t much to the script. Films like this aren’t necessarily ever plot-heavy (remember The Santa Clause?) as they’re meant to hold the attention of five-year-olds across the world. So, the colors wind up being almost distractingly bright and the music curiously bouncy. Our animated characters are full of life and beautifully designed, and our human characters are wide open and boisterous. Lots of big movement, despite not going anywhere in particular.
E.B.’s journey from Easter Island (which is hilarious) takes him to Hollywood, from the Playboy Mansion (it’s not what you think) to David Hasselhoff’s presence. And to be fair, it’s Hasselhoff that makes the movie. In films centered on two characters, especially comedies, it’s the supporting actors and cameos that make the difference. Here, it’s the same thing – Gary Cole is Marsden’s dad, Elizabeth Perkins his mom, and Kaley Cuoco his sister. Hank Azaria is E.B.’s arch nemesis, and Hugh Laurie his father. Each of them has very tiny roles, but each stand out in their own way. Wonderful interaction between all of them, and it’s not like any of them are wasted, either; each of their roles is equally important to the story. So the script succeeds in that aspect.
Looking at this film from a technical perspective, it’s easy to call out the animation as a standout. The animals are as life-like as modern CG allows them to be, and the editing is quick and slick. But what impresses me the most (and I haven’t been impressed about this sort of thing lately) is the integration of the animated characters into the real live world. Even when E.B. cuddles with Fred’s sister (not what you think, either), it’s life-like and the distinction between animation and live-action can be forgotten for a brief moment. The cinematography is clever, and Tim Hill’s direction isn’t once cheap. He knows he has a sickly sweet movie on his hands, and he’s going to milk it for all it’s worth. Mission accomplished. Of course, I now expect no less from the team behind Despicable Me (2010).
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com