Friday, May 25, 2012

Hop (Relativity/Illumination/Universal, 2011)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan * Copyright (c) 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan * All rights reserved

Two nights ago Charles and I watched a surprisingly entertaining movie, Hop – billed as “by the creators of Despicable Me” (the director was Tim Hill and the writers were Cinco Paul – I inevitably joked about whether the movie would have been any different if his brother Quatro Paul had worked on it, and Charles said, “How about their father, Tertius Secunda – or their uncle we never talk about, Octavian Primus?” – Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch) and what turned out to be a charming little fantasy, partially live action and partially computer-animated, in which virtually all the armamentarium of the Santa Claus mythos was thrown at a quite different holiday: Easter, not Christmas. It begins with a prologue set 20 years before the main action, in which a young suburban boy named Fred O'Hare (Coleton Ray) sees the Easter Bunny arrive on his parents' front lawn in a space-age craft that looks like a cross between Santa's sleigh and a moon rocket and drop candy all over the lawn before he departs again. Then the film moves to the present, where the Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie) is getting old for the gig of depositing candy on the lawns of all the boys and girls in the world (unlike Santa, there's no particular hint about this supernatural visitor making lists and checking them twice of who's been naughty and who's been nice) and he wants to turn the reins over to his son, E.B. (Russell Brand, who in addition to voicing the character also appears on screen as a backstage minion for a talent contest saying, “Is there somebody here named Eb?”).

Only E.B. doesn't want to become the Easter Bunny. What he does want is to escape from Easter Island (where the Easter Bunny has his candy factory and the entrance is concealed inside one of the famous Easter Island statues) and head out to Hollywood to make his fortune as a rock 'n' roll drummer. He makes his escape, all right, via a network of subterranean rabbit holes that undergirds the entire planet, but he soon finds out that there's no such thing as overnight fame. He also runs into Fred O'Hare (James Marsden), now a late-teen slacker who's just been thrown out of his parents' house (it's staged deliberately like a substance-abuse intervention in one of the most grimly funny parts of the film!) and would be reduced to sleeping in his car were it not for the secret help of his sister Samantha (Kaley Cuoco), who's given him a line on a place he can stay: a huge mansion she's supposed to be house-sitting, only she can't stand the dogs that come with the place (and whom Fred is instructed to put on a padded suit before feeding – a precaution well worth taking, as we soon learn). She warns Fred that he's not supposed to venture into the upstairs part of the house (what's up there, we wonder – the owner's S/M dungeon where he's keeping underage sex slaves?), but on his way there Fred runs into E.B. – literally, with his car – and naturally E.B. won't leave. E.B. blows Fred's job interview for a mail-room position at a video game company, and when Fred tries to abandon him E.B. puts on the sob-sister act and gets Fred to relent.

Later E.B. himself heads out on his way and discovers the audition for the show Hoff's Got Talent!, a reality series hosted by David Hasselhoff (playing himself), and after a long sequence of auditioners who are even weirder than a talking rabbit – there's a nice bit in which E.B. asks “Hoff” if he's cool with a talking rabbit, and Hoff responds, “Why not? My best friend is a talking car” – he scores a shot at the show. Only in the meantime Fred has been kidnapped by the Pink Berets, the security detail of the Easter Bunny's operation, and underground in the Easter Island location Fred and the Easter Bunny are both being held hostage by Carlos (Hank Azaria), the long-suffering second-in-command Easter chicken (the chicks who are basically the Easter Island proletariat are made to look like Peeps candies) who's decided it's time for the poultry to take over and dethrone the rabbits from control of Easter. It all ends well, of course: E.B. starts drumming and gets Carlos's assistant Phil (also Hank Azaria) to dance, thereby distracting the chickens, while Fred realizes that the ropes with which he and the Easter Bunny, Sr. are bound are black licorice (“We can eat right through them!” Fred explains – to which E.B., Sr. replies, “You can eat through them. I can't stand the taste of them!” As someone who's never liked licorice, I could relate to that – I hated it as a child, and when I read years later that Charlie Chaplin had the prop shoe he ate in The Gold Rush made of licorice because he couldn't stand the taste of it and therefore he'd have no trouble looking like he was eating something repulsive, I felt a kinship to his spirit). Fred eats through his own ropes, he unties E.B., Sr., and he and E.B., Jr. are eventually appointed co-Easter Bunnies and they do the candy run together. (This outcome was actually telegraphed in the early parts of the movie, and frankly I thought it would have been better if it hadn't been and it had come as a surprise.)

 Hop is the sort of movie that not only is largely derived from older movies but wears its derivations with almost perverse pride – its debt to Santa Claus movies in general and The Santa Clause in particular is obvious, the Easter candy factory is right out of both versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (so much so I half expected a line of dialogue indicating that Fred had won admission to it by finding a Golden Ticket inside a candy bar!) and there are the almost inevitable borrowings from The Wizard of Oz as well as a far less inevitable borrowing from another project involving Judy Garland: the Pink Berets couldn't help but remind me of the villain's minions, the Money-Cats, from Gay Purr-ee (though the Pink Berets are mute – even the Money-Cats got to sing a cool Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg song!). Also, Hop suffers from an inverse concession to the Ratings Board: in an era in which the G rating is a commercial kiss of death (today's children regard G-rated movies as terminally boring even before they see them), the filmmakers stretched to include enough “mild rude humor” to score a PG (including the most obnoxious gag in the film, in which E.B. shits out great-tasting candy drops). Still, Hop is a lot of fun – and any movie that features the Blind Boys of Alabama doing their great cover of Stevie Wonder's “Higher Ground” (with E.B. sitting in on drums) can't be all bad ...