Everybody loves children’s films. The popularity of Pixar’s combination of child friendly larks with weighty themes of mortality, death, friendship and loneliness has meant a new level of critical acceptance of films primarily aimed at the under-tens. With studios like DreamWorks (How To Train Your Dragon), Columbia Pictures (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and even Disney (The Princess and the Frog) being forced to up their game in response to Pixar’s output, parents are now blessed with higher quality cinema to which to treat their children.
Hop, the tale of a blossoming friendship between the yawningly named Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) and the runaway heir to the Easter Bunny dynasty, therefore arrives both in time for the eponymous holiday and during a period where parents can be a little more critical about what they take their children to see. When the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie) decides that the time has come to hand over the reins to his successor, his son E.B. (Russell Brand) elects instead to run away and pursue his dream of becoming a rock n’ roll drummer. Arriving in Hollywood, he convinces O’Hare to both accept the existence of a talking rabbit and to put him up while he pursues his dream.
Director Tim Hill, with profitable monstrosities such as Alvin and the Chipmunks and Garfield 2 in his back catalogue, can make computer animated rabbits and humans not look entirely ridiculous when sharing screen time. Unfortunately that is about as much as can be said in the film’s favour, as Marsden’s apparent twenty-something (he is 37, and looks it) is subjected to a series of utterly charmless embarrassments by a talking rabbit, including a job interview at a record company scuppered by E.B’s playing drums for the Blind Boys of Alabama, and a public sing-along at a school play in which Marsden has to fake ventriloquism to disguise his sidekick’s rendition of I Want Candy.
In amongst all this is a story of two children struggling with the pressure not to disappoint their parents, and adults in turn learning to accept that their children’s individuality. Marsden contends with paternal disappointment, whilst E.B’s father struggles to accept his son’s dream even while his number two, a duplicitous Spanish chick, tries to insinuate that he should look elsewhere for an appropriate heir. The latter’s donning of bunny ears in an attempt to convince his boss of his suitability for the task provides the film’s only amusing moment. Otherwise Hop is populated with humour that is slow, dated and mindless, an ADD confection of half-baked slapstick and notions of the healing power of Easter chocolate.
By the time Marsden has made the startlingly obvious realisation about his calling in life there is a chick uprising on Easter Island, but by then Hop has already tested the patience of its audience with nonsensical plotting and a battery of clunky references to contemporary culture, including an America’s Got Talent knockoff hosted by David Hasselhoff. Such elements make Hop seem dated before it has even hit the screen, and more importantly come at the expense of any coherent attempt to develop characters, create believable onscreen relationships or actually be any fun. Instead the film is left as a series of fairly dull set pieces, glossily filmed but lacking humour or sweetness.
Ultimately the final decisions that the two leads make about their futures don’t really make any sense, but their lack of personality – nowhere has Brand’s apparent gift for comic timing and rebellious shtick been so absent – means that audiences, both child and adult, are unlikely to care either way. With Easter around the corner, family trips to the cinema are even more likely than usual. Where Hop is concerned, parents would do well to remember that these days they are spoiled for choice.