RIORI Presents Installment #204: Tim Hill’s “Hop” (2011)

The Film…

The Players…

James Marsden, Kaley Cuoco, Elizabeth Perkins, Gary Cole, Chelsea Handler, Tiffany Espesen and David Hasselhoff, and featuring the voice talents of Russell Brand, Hank Azaria, Hugh Laurie and Hugh Hefner (no, really).

The Plot…

No matter how old one gets got gotta leave the nest eventually. Be it by hook, crook or quit being a schnook. Our friend Fred is defiantly not of the first two sorry to say. Time for our slacker to take flight, get a haircut and get a real job.

On the other hand we have E.B. He’s slated to take over the family business, but wants to ford his own trail as a musician. He has dreams of fame and fortune and staying home will not get him anywhere. So E.B. hops off to Hollywood to make it as a rock drummer.

Naturally Fred and E.B. have similar goals: make their mark on the world while still being true to themselves. Fred and E.B. agree to do the back scratching thing and out into the big, bad world of Los Angeles they go in search of truth and fun.

Oh, BTW, E.B. is a rabbit. The Easter Bunny’s son, no less. Good thing Fred loves chocolate.

Have drum, will travel.

The Rant…

At of the time of this installment it’s Easter time. It’s finally spring. The leaves are popping out of branches. Crocuses and daffodils are sprouting. Warm rain showers. And in my case cranky Canada geese in the yard, tending to their brood of fluffy goslings and all the while pooping green stuff everywhere. Ah, the vernal awakening.

Let’s not ignore Easter itself, duh. This family friendly holiday celebrated in the West has twofold significance. First, after Xmas, Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian calendar. It’s the symbolic day of Jesus’ resurrection and the big guy could not wait to tell his 11 buddies (read your New Testament) the Good News! There’a an amazing afterlife, so go get your sh*t together now so we can rock out with the Heralds when the time comes!

I hear you. Thomas scoffed, too.

Second—you guessed it—Easter’s the time to officially wave winter bye-bye. Nicer weather. Time to sow seeds. Put that ever stupider reset of Daylight Savings Time in effect. Spring training for the MLB. Free comic books on the first Saturday in May. Most importantly—any resurrections aside—a visit from the Easter Bunny. This meant coloring eggs, baskets filled with plastic grass, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies wrapped in foil, those weird Reese’s peanut butter eggs that resemble a stool sample and naturally time to hunt for those aforementioned eggs.

My grandparents always had an Easter egg hunt at the ready come that certain Sunday. They scattered plastic eggs all over their lawn for my young self and even younger sister selves to unearth (they actually buried the things just under the soil). Inside these festive ova were coins. Mostly pennies, but if we were lucky we could unearth a quarter. A whole quarter! Jackpot! We never could find all the eggs. To this day and decades later there must be thousands of dollars in pennies and quarters trapped below the salt on that property. Accounting for interest, of course. Coins hold up better than candy goes, I figure. At least until Rapture.

Oh yeah. Back to the candy thing. Durst I nary give Peeps a show? The ever divided camp over these curious marshmallow confections shaped like constipated chicks or extras from a Hello Kitty cartoon in every color of the rainbow. Some out of it. I’m not gonna slam on anyone’s joy regarding candy. I live in the city where the JustBorn candy company has their mother operation. Come Easter it is almost sovereign that we must love Peeps. On the whole this appears to be an accurate assessment of the public. Only the census is more exacting. Me? I hate the damned things. Why? I feel JustBorn’s frankenbunnies are the antithesis of the pleasures of a simple, sweet, white, soft marshmallow ready for roasting. Some of you out there might hear what I’m screaming. One of life’s simple pleasures is a summer campfire, and its companion is toasting marshmallows until they are done to your liking. Be it golden brown to me or a charred signal flare to others, it’s good, clean fun. Regardless the trauma your marshmallow endured all can be made better with a messy s’more. Then we can tell spooky stories.

Speaking of which, I have a story. Kinda spooky. A combination of a Peeps story, and work story and why celebrating Easter is best left as simple. Okay, sh*t like rebirth and resurrection can get little sticky, but so do Peeps. Moving on.

Dateline: 2009. About 10 miles away from JustBorn, within the blast zone. The seafood restaurant I worked at. It was the dreaded Restaurant Week. Charlie in the canopy. Our crew drew the losing lot and had to concoct some sort of signature dessert within the theme of Restaurant Week. You guessed it, Peeps. None of us liked them. They were of my belief in that a simple marshmallow was the best kind, and JustBorn’s signature mutation was anathema in our kitchen. We prided ourselves on our house made sorbet, not some unnatural oleaginous mock ‘mallow. The chef and us went for the college try. I suggested a variant on creme brûlée. Marshmallows are nothing more than air, gelatin and sugar. Let’s set a flame to one of these devil Peeps and see what happens.

We were cautious—read: wary—and set a Peep on the naked, stainless steel prep table and applied a match. The thing burned slowly like a candle, but the flame was green. Like neon (must’ve been the additives). It did not burn like a traditional marshmallow. No. It shrunk, kinda similar to the Mary Reeser case of suspected spontaneous combustion back in the 50s. The thing took at least five minutes to burn out, and when it was exhausted all that remained was a crystalline, cold black cinder usually reserved as a plot device for a Lovecraft story. Ugh.

Chef said, “We’re sticking with the cranberry sorbet. That and order some vanilla from the Heavenly Hedgehog (the local ice cream merchants). We’ll sparkle it with Mike ‘N’ Ikes.”

I exchanged looks with the pantry cook and shrugged. He went to to dispose of the Peep cinder and cut his thumb on the thing. It’s final form was spun glass. It wasn’t a pin prick mind you. It was a cut. He yelped in pain. I winced. Happy f*ckin’ Easter.

Easter, despite its unique spiritual undercurrents, is a time of rebirth. Getting refreshed whilst watching the trees wake up. Simple pleasures…which somehow demand complications. Like JC’s last chapter, Peeps as an IED or mandatory visits to the local rose garden to find eggs rather than check out the fresh, blooming perennials. This Easter my girl and I ventured into our local rose garden to play Pokémon GO. We scored nothing, but stumbled onto an Easter egg hunt, complete with a DJ. The kids present were more interested in the ducks and geese as fish and just engaging in young kid f*ckery (like tossing plastic eggs into the creek and placing bets on speed). The teens were too busy flirting with each other. It’s spring. It blooms eternal. Chill the f*ck out.

I know this rant is kinda fluffy, but once in a while it’s nice to revel in the fun stuff.  So thanks for hanging around for the film stuff. There just might be free candy on the way…

The Story…

Striking out on your own can be either inviting a great adventure or a spectacular downfall. It’s either gonna be the voyage of Odysseus or the plight of Icarus. Or maybe it’ll just be simple growing pains. Growing up pains. Like the kind Fred O’Hare (Marsden) has suddenly been stricken with. The real world looms.

Fred is a professional slacker. He has no job. He wants no job. His standards for employment are either way too high, way too specific or way too outside of his non-existent skill set. His folks have gotten wise to his goofy, head-in-the-clouds stumbling through life and so out he goes. Get a job, get a place to live, get grounded and for Pete’s sake get a life.

The real world can be a scary place, and not just for humans. E.B. (Brand) is the heir apparent to his dad’s Easter empire. His is the Easter Bunny after all, and has a ton of responsibilities to owe up to when the Ides Of March come calling. Candy production, delivering the goodies, keeping all those chicks in line, the list goes on, and E.B. wants nothing to do with any of it. He has aspirations of being a musician—a session rock drummer in Hollywood. Chocolate eggs are not in his basket.

One night E.B. takes off from Easter Island to LA to pursue his dream, and get away from all those silly chicks. The City Of Angels turns out to be an unforgiving place, and E.B. quickly learns he needs a friend to help him find his way. Instead E.B. runs into Fred, and things don’t go too hot. Fred is homeless and thanks to E.B.’s sudden appearance he’s questioning his sanity. A talking bunny drummer? Really? Really.

It helps that Fred loves Easter time—all the crap that E.B. is trying to escape. Fred and E.B. figure that if they put their misfit heads together perhaps they’ll make things work out to some mutual benefit. Hopefully.

Just keep those carrots coming…

The Review…

I really wanted to see Hop. The premise sounded so silly that I was amped to see obnoxious Brit comic Russell Brand chew scenery as a bunny Charlie Watts. That and Cyclops being a professional slacker rather than Boy Scout. Marsden is very good at being your average Joe, and Brand can be all five New York Dolls housed in a single body. So let the goofiness commence! Release the hounds! Unleash the Kraken! Right?

I was underwhelmed. Boy, was I let down.

Let’s put it this way. The late, great satirist Bill Hicks had a keen take on Easter in America. “…Commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus by telling our children that a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night. Now I wonder why we’re f*cked up as a race?” That being said, Hop was not f*cked up enough. I expected zaniness. Instead I got a derivative holiday tale (EG: The Easter Bunny is real!), a tribute to WIlly Wonka, with an oddly sober performance from Brand. I knew things were amiss when Marsden played against character as an excitable man-child. Needless to say, Hop subverted my expectations, and not entirely in a fun way.

Now before I start griping and whining I have to say why I was really up to seeing Hop. Illumination Studios has been giving Pixar a run for its money for the past few years. I’m not talking about plots and characterization here. Whereas Pixar has been dedicated to sharpening their CGI craft, all the minions at Illumination are making animated movies. What’s the diff? Pixar has been striving for life-like animation for decades, with varying results (EG: Sure, Brave looked great, but the story was uneven) and always pushing for more “reality.” Illumination just wants to make great cartoonsSing, The Lorax, The Secret Life Of Pets, the Despicable Me series (with Steve Carrell doing his best Bela Lugosi voice) are all great cartoons with vibrant, swollen colors and upbeat shadowing that would’ve made Chuck Jones drool. There’s nothing pretentious with Illumination’s output, and have no baggage to carry. They just really make awesome looking cartoons. Do you know hard it is to make an animated movie rendered in the ubiquitous CGI palette to have the feel of a cartoon? I feel there is seldom a wink and a nod to most animated feature films nowadays. In sum, I find Illumination’s work twice-removed from the Looney Tunes: kinda goofy, garish and glorious and if that wins an award then whatever. Let’s see what we can do Gru’s adoptive family the next time out.

True to form Hop was very much an Illumination vehicle, but this time is was a live-action/animated outing (as well as the studio’s sophomore release). I do enjoy the live-action hybrid. It’s the best of both worlds, so long as those world exists in the realms of fantasy, sci-fi and or comedy. The resulting dynamic between the real and the ‘toon makes such a film so filled with chewy goodness. Most outings of this kind have been more pleasant than not. Think Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Looney Tunes: Back In Action, the original Tron and that delightful and amazing dance scene with Gene Kelly and Jerry The Mouse in Anchors Aweigh! from back in the day. The overarching appeal of this stuff is the “opposites attract” dynamic. More like failing upwards/comedy of errors kind of thing. As it was with Hop Marsden is the relatable loser we all feel like when we wake up first thing. Brand is the overly eager and not wizened youth with eyes all wide; the innocent abroad. Abbott and Costello and who knows if Who will ever reach first base. An unlikely paring. A tried and true comedy trope like with The Odd Couple, any of those blundering old skool “road movies” with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and even Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. This format has been proven time and again pure comedy gold. So what went wrong with Hop?

Two things: my high expectations and no real heavy. You know, the antagonist. The guy who drives/creates the conflict that pushes the story forward. We have Fred and E.B. both totally out of there element, as if there was an element to be out of. Both were pampered and given a shot at their best life and squandered any opportunity available to “find themselves.” Fred slacked off and E.B. had his floppy eared head truly in the clouds. So where’s the conflict then? Azaria is perfectly respiring his The Birdcage role in reverse. Scheming and (even the other chicks point out) what good would it do? The whole conflict and resolution matter was weak, and I’ve been scrutinizing a cartoon here, before God. Perhaps because I needed something to hang onto here.

That and the tried and true device of kids fording their own way despite the parents’ protests…or marching orders. That’s the very simple story about how Fred and E.B. met and where to go from there. It’s a classic setup, but Hop brought not much new to the table. No shock that all’s well will end well (despite Carlos’ failed coup, which was never setup). What was curious about this cock and bull story was the absence of real tension. From the get-go we had this aura of warm feelies. I blame the comic timing. Not that there wasn’t any—there was—but it all hopped the tracks (no pun intended). What I mean was that the good gags stuttered due to too much filler. Hence that lack of tension claptrap. It feeds back to the expectations being blown. I wanted goofy. I know what goofy is. Movie, don’t tell me what’s goofy about the Easter Bunny’s son’s desire to be the next Steve Gadd. Unnecessary. Filler. FFS why? Hop had the potential as a avant-garde Friz Freeling animation. Instead we got forced silly and disjointed expectations with a lame resolution. Still, you gotta get behind the rabbit drummer, right?

I did. To repeat Illumination makes some crazy great cartoons. This was almost one of them, but I’ll cut some slack since it was a live action hybrid. That and Hop being their second feature. Maybe they tried to chew over more than they tried to bite. Casting Brand as E.B. was a stroke of idiot brilliance, as was Marsden as man-child. You may have heard about a piece of art being greater than the sum of its parts, right? Hop just had a lot of cool pieces—set pieces—that darn didn’t connect into a lowbrow, upbeat whole. Like with Fred and E.B.’s joint efforts not gelling. From that it was all scattered, murky and kept nagging at me that we needed more swag employed courtesy of Acme Enterprises. Sarcasm aside, it was cool to learn that even the Easter Bunny has a backstory. Hey, the Tooth Fairy earned his own a year before and you can smell what the Novocaine is cooking.

I know this review was kinda schizo, but so was the movie. En toto ignore Hicks’ cynicism because overall Easter is just a good time to celebrate spring, candy and Jesus in equal doses. Hop tried that in muddy furlongs, but let the Big Guy take the back seat for a while because His back story lacked jelly beans.

Anybody seen my coin purse? I got laundry to do.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild relent it. Hop just wasn’t goofy enough for me despite the loony (toony) premise. However Illumination did not disappoint with their crisp pixels.

The Musings…

  • Easter Island. Get it? Clever that.
  • “I might not be the best egg, but I could be the best sock ever!” K simply said E.B. was just stating his mind. I didn’t argue.
  • Is he pooping out nooooo…
  • The Blind Boys of Alabama! Awesome!
  • “One more word out of you and it’s Wabbit Season!”
  • K: Does Fred have an “excuse book?”
  • “My best friend is a car.” Whose isn’t?
  • Cute cameo there, Russell…not.
  • Fred O’Hare. Get it? Ha ha.
  • “Move along.”

The Next Time…

Josie And The Pussycats. Long tails, and ears for hats. Guitars, and sharps and flats. Neat, sweet, groovy songs. You’re invited, come along…”

Hurry, hurry meow…


Leave a Reply