Spoiler alert. I'm going to reveal key plot details here. But keep reading, because if this review does it's job, you won't be watching this movie any time soon. Not that I feel particularly guilty. The opening sequence gives away the end in hopes of piquing our curiosity with the story. It's a false hope.
Hop has two central characters. E.B. (voiced by Russel Brand), an animated rabbit who is next in a long line of Easter Bunnies; and Fred O'Hare (James Marsden), a Failure to Launch twenty something who gets a parental eviction from his family home. E.B Lives on Easter Island, which sits on top of a cavernous chocolate production facility. Our first clue to the rot within this work comes with E.B., who appears to have an Australian accent. Easter Island -- a Chilean territory since 1888 -- lists Spanish and Rapa Nu as official languages, so we're left to conclude that the creators of Hop picked the closest white, non-American culture as a matter of convenience.
Once our projectionist discovered that movies work better when the projector bulb is on -- some 40 seconds in -- Hop did an impressive job of showing us the Easter chocolate factory. Think Willie Wonka with a lot more complexity, less goofiness, and more brand placement. The factory is a feat of impressive state of the art CGI that -- as far as I could tell -- was primarily designed to document the current state of impressive state of the art CGI. Well done.
Once that formality is done, we get to meet our nemesis, Carlos (voiced by Hank Azaria). Carlos, an adult chick (as in chicken), is the ambitious second-in-command, leader of a throng of chicks, are the worker class in the factory. Carlos has an odd accent that eventually settles into Spanish, but it's more of an L.A. version than a Easter Island version. So now we have our ruling and ethnic working classes defined by culture. Lovely. The marketing for this film is clearly targeted at parents of young children, but I'm not sure that's the sort of message parents want their kids to get.
Flashback to Fred as a boy, who awakens one night to find the Easter bunny hiding goodies in his back yard. Viewed from Fred's bedroom window, we get to see the bunny's magical transportation: an adaptation of Santa's sled, powered by a few hundred magically powered chicks. Contrived and unoriginal, it's neither done well enough to impress nor poorly enough to be laughed at.
Ever since Toy Story, films with a significant animated component have felt compelled to entertain two audiences: the children who want to have their imaginations exercised and the adults who bring them. This achievement requires an exceptional mastery of storytelling, not the simple jamming together of pieces for each audience in turn. The adult subtext here is the father-son relationship. Both E.B.'s father and Fred's father have expectations of their sons that remain unsatisfied. That's a fair bit to jam into any film, let alone one that has to entertain a theatre full of young children who want bunnies and candy. With that load of baggage, this film doesn't hop far.
I'm not really sure what story children who see this film are supposed to follow. The only child in the film is Fred's adopted younger sister, Alex. Not yet content with the load of stereotypes, Alex is Chinese (never fear, the Blind Boys of Alabama make an appearance just to cover all the bases). Alex has a starring role in the school's Easter play, a role deserved, she claims, by the strength of her singing voice. Her singing is poor, but she's quickly saved from embarrassment by Fred and E.B., who steal the show with an unscripted song and dance routine. If I pretend for a moment that I'm a young person watching this film, the only character I can identify with gets trampled halfway through the film and pretty much ignored thereafter. That sounds like about as much fun as going to bed early. The screening I went to had a fair number of young children in the audience. None of them seemed bored enough to cause a disturbance, but I heard almost no laughter, no gasps, no indication that the film did more than just hold their attention.
As for the adult story line, Hop doesn't get much higher. E.B. and Fred resolve their career angst by compromise, becoming co-Easter bunnies. Both father-son relationships resolve: E.B. rises to the challenge and puts down Carlos' attempts to become Easter Bunny. He accepts his destiny and earns his father's respect as a result. At least this story line is believable. Meanwhile Fred's father is understandably skeptical of the Easter Bunny story -- preferring to believe that he delivers pizzas in a Mad Hatter style suit. The physical appearance of the magic sled in the family's front yard is all it takes to achieve this transformation. Dad transitions from skeptical resigned father-of-a-underachiever to proud father in less than a second.The unimaginative sled takes off into the sky and the film thankfully rolls credits.
Rating: 3 out of 10, unless you want to see a showcase of impressive animation without giving a damn about story, disturbing stereotypes, or originality, in which case it's an 8 -- on DVD or download, where you can fast forward through the rest.