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Easter movies have never had the same cache at the box office as Christmas movies but Universal and the minds behind Despicable Me — meaning Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment — want to change all that in a skip, jump and Hop. Imaginatively combining live action with digital animation, Hop delivers a story that slyly borrows from Santa Claus mythology as well as Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
While director Tim Hill, who helmed Alvin and the Chipmunks, skewers things toward children, there is plenty of wit, verve and surreal mayhem to entice the post-adolescent crowd into this Easter egg hunt. Besides any movie about the hare apparent to the Easter Bunny throne arriving in Los Angeles and going immediately to the Playboy Mansion — a logical mistake if you think about it — can’t be strictly for children.
The screenplay by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio (Horton Hears a Who!) along with Brian Lynch imagines an Easter much like Christmas: The Easter Bunny (Santa) sets out from a candy factory (toy factory) on Easter Island (the North Pole) to deliver sugary treats (gifts) to children all over the world. Well, the Easter Bunny hasn’t quite cracked China but that’s another story.
The story starts out with two families thoroughly dissatisfied with their sons. These would be the O’Hare Family that is wearying of the lay-about propensities of slacker son Fred (James Marsden of Enchanted) and the Easter Bunny (voiced by a rather jolly Hugh Laurie) whose son E.B. (a hilarious Russell Brand) wants to be a drummer rather than the Easter Bunny. And not just any drummer but the best rabbit drummer in the world — a goal he has a more than decent shot of achieving.
So faster than you can wiggle a cottontail, E.B. runs away from his destiny, plunges down a rabbit hole — these guys will steal from anywhere — and lands in Hollywood looking for a record contract. As his first gig is with the Blind Boys of Alabama, who aren’t absolutely sure about the species of their new drummer, things go okay for E.B. at first. (You get the drift of the film’s sense of humor?)
E.B. and Fred become a reluctant team with E.B., whose ability to talk (much less play the drums) has Fred wondering whether he’s asleep or awake, moving into a hillside mansion Fred is house sitting. E.B. lands a spot on a talent search TV show while Fred … well, Fred develops a curious and never quite explained ambition to become the Easter Bunny himself.
There is a Hellzapoppin’, anything-goes sensibility at work here where gags, personalities and cultural references fly every which way but the discipline behind the animation merged with live action is top-notch. Best of all — no, second best of all, as we’ll get to what’s best here in a minute — is the cast. Where to start? Brand was born to be a slacker Easter Bunny (among other things), Marsden is more animated than many of the animated characters and if you want someone to play the Easter Bunny’s right-hand chick with a Latin American accent, the one who ferments a palace coup, look no further than the always uproarious Hank Azaria.
Let’s not leave out the Pink Berets — ninja bunnies who go searching for the wayward E.B. — or David Hasselhoff as the host of a star-search reality show.
Okay, Hop lets down with a sappy ending that isn’t quite as smart as the rest of the movie. But you cut it some slack since getting there is so much fun. Oh yes, and now here is the promised best thing about the movie: It isn’t in 3D!
Opens: April 1 (Universal Pictures)
Universal Pictures in association Relativity Media presents an Illumination Entertainment production
Cast: James Marsden, Russell Brand, Kaley Cuoco, Hank Azaria, Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, Hugh Laurie, Tiffany Espensen, David Hasselhoff, Chelsea Handler
Director: Tim Hill
Screenwriter: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch
Story by: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio
Producers: Chris Meledandri, Michele Imperato Stabile
Executive producer: John Cohen
Director of photography: Peter Lyons Collister
Production designer: Richard Holland
Animation supervisor: Chris A. Bailey
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Costume designer: Alexandra Welker
Editor: Peter S. Elliot, Gregory Perler
Rated PG, 95 minutes
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