The mere existence of a movie like Hop is depressing enough. That family audiences have embraced it, even amid a paucity of alternatives, is far worse. “An act of aggression against childhood” is how one critic aptly described this movie. If so, family audiences are tragically codependent. Hop is the kind of movie that makes helpless critics wish we could stage an intervention. Parents! It doesn’t have to come to this!
Hop appears to have been conceived in the minds of studio executives contemplating The Santa Clause and its dismal ilk and concluding that if it worked for Christmas, it will work for Easter too. As bad as the trailers make it look, the movie is worse.
Have you seen that gag scriptment for Avatar that takes Disney’s Pocahontas and changes a few names and details? That’s what Hop does for the Santa Clause movies. The edits would look like this: North Pole Easter Island; toys candy; elves chicks; reindeer chicks; evil toy Santa evil chick; Rescue ELFS Pink Beret Rabbits; etc.
Instead of Tim Allen as a bitter divorcé turning into Santa Claus, you’ve got James Marsden as a thirtyish slacker named Fred O’Hare becoming the Easter Bunny. Except that in Fred’s case it’s actually his own idea. No, really. Instead of a Bizarro Santa simulacrum taking over Santa’s North Pole workshop, there’s a scheming Easter chick named Carlos plotting to take over the Easter Island candy factory.
Charles Dickens popularized a secular Christmas celebration of family, cheer and charity for one’s fellow man, a tradition continued and ennobled in It’s a Wonderful Life. Even The Grinch tipped its Santy hat to the notion that holiday spirit is more than presents and toys. By contrast, the Christmas of the Santa Clause movies is a purely material affair—and, in that spirit, Hop reduces Easter to nothing but candy. Nothing about even spring and new life, let alone, well, you know.
Hop’s contempt and indeed active hostility for Easter yields a gratuitous throwaway line in which the Easter Bunny, upset that his young son doesn’t want to follow him into the family business, snaps, “4,000 years of tradition doesn’t end just because one selfish bunny doesn’t feel like doing it.” Way to actually diss Jesus ... in an Easter movie.
Is a historical excursus really necessary here? Despite widespread claims to the contrary, the Easter bunny’s supposed pagan roots seem to be greatly exaggerated if not entirely fictional. Yes, rabbits and eggs are ancient symbols of of spring, fertility and new life. And sure, the practice of coloring eggs may have pre-Christian roots.
As far as I know, though, the association of eggs and rabbits—specifically, the notion of a magical rabbit laying colored eggs, hiding them for children, etc.—seems to be a creation of 16th-century German Christians. I’m aware of no evidence of a direct line of cultural descent connecting this figure with Germany’s first-millennium pagan roots. Eggs, of course, were associated with Easter not only as symbols of new life, but also because like other animal products eggs were traditionally verboten during Lent and came back at Easter.
Bottom line: The Easter bunny as we know him is a figure of Christian culture.
Of course, the “4,000 years of tradition” thing only goes so far. If a slacker bunny like E.B. (Russell Brand), son of the current Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie), doesn’t want the job, it’s a crisis. If an ambitious chick like Carlos (Hank Azaria) dreams of taking over Easter, it’s laughable. However, if a thirtysomething human slacker who has moved back in with his parents, plays video games, crashes and burns at job interviews and has no discernible skills or interests suddenly decides that he would like to be the Easter Bunny, roll out the red carpet!
Marsden, who plays Fred, is 37 years old. When George Bailey was 37 years old, he was a husband and father of four, president of his own company and had a whole neighborhood named after him where he had helped family after family realize the American dream. Hop doesn’t seem to realize what a complete and utter loser its protagonist is. It wants us to believe that Fred is special, that he has remarkable untapped potential—that in some way he is Easter Bunny material.
Fred shows no sign of any particular affinity for Easter—how could he? There’s nothing to care about, except candy. At least with The Santa Clause Christmas had some residual emotional significance for a number of characters.
Fred’s sole connection to Easter is having spotted the Easter Bunny from his bedroom window one night as a boy. That’s why he suddenly decides—at 37—that when he grows up he wants to be the Easter Bunny. It was destiny, don’t you see? Is this plot synopsis as painful to read as it is to write?
That’s why Fred cheerfully embraces an excruciating training regimen that includes bouncing along on a hoppy ball and running hurtles over hedges carrying Easter baskets. Excruciating for the audience, I mean. Apparently that’s all it takes—that, and chewing through black-licorice bonds in order to save Mr. Bunny from a dastardly plot. You’d think the criteria would be a little more rigorous than that.
Hop repeatedly commits a plotting fallacy I’ve seen numerous times but never defined as such. It involves situations in which the protagonist is in a social environment in which he is the only one aware of something untoward going on—a talking rabbit, say, running around in an office where the protagonist is interviewing for a mailroom job, or hopping up onto the stage where a grade-school play is going on.
The fallacy is that the protagonist acts as if anyone else spotting the rabbit, or whatever it is, would spell disaster for him personally. Why? What is there to connect him to a talking rabbit? Why can’t he be one more uninvolved bystander? Why is an unexplained talking rabbit his problem?
The grade-school play, in which Fred leaps onto the stage in front of the whole audience to grab E.B., leads to a dreadful sequence in which E.B. pretends to be a ventriloquist dummy, and Fred and E.B. lead the startled children in an impromptu rendition of “I Want Candy.” The audience, comprised of parents, loves it. Why not? What parent wouldn’t enjoy a showboating 37-year-old with a ventriloquist dummy crashing his or her kid’s grade-school play?
“I Want Candy” reprises over the end credits, making it an anthem of sorts for the film, despite the fact that the lyrics are actually about a girl. The possibility, however remote, that Hop could somehow succeed in making “I Want Candy” a secular Easter song fills me with dull dread.
An uncomfortable subtext of race and ethnicity runs through the film. The Easter Bunny and his heir-apparent son speak in posh English accents; Carlos, the evil but hardworking chick who resents E.B.’s privileged status, has a Mexican accent. Then there’s a gag flashback in which we see the Easter Bunny being rejected in China—not by the government or the military, which might actually have been a gag with some bite, but by a “funny” Chinese lady waving a broom and shouting in Chinese. “We haven’t cracked China,” Mr. Bunny admits. Why is this funny?
Then there’s Fred’s Asian adopted younger sister Alex (Tiffany Espensen). Alex is a model student and overachiever who gets cast as a female Peter Cottontail, reportedly because of her strong singing voice—but when we actually hear her at the school play, she’s terrible. Perhaps the parents were cheering because they preferred Fred’s ventriloquist act to an uppity Asian girl singing off-key. I hope I wasn’t the only one in the audience rooting for Alex when she kicked Fred in the shin after the show.
The movie contains one (1) laugh, which I am now about to spoil. E.B., whose lifelong dream is to be a drummer in a band, tries out for “Hoff Knows Talent,” a fictionalized version of “Britain’s Got Talent” with David Hasselhoff playing himself as the host and judge (Hasselhoff is one of the judges on “BGT”). Fred has instructed E.B. not to talk in front of Hasselhoff, a talking rabbit apparently being much more alarming than a drumming one. When E.B. accidentally starts talking, he checks himself, noting, “You’re not surprised that I’m a talking rabbit?”
“Little man,” the Hoff says unflappably, “my best friend is a talking car!”
And now I am about to spoil the climax. Even though we see Carlos start to mutate into an actual rabbit once he gets hold of the Easter Bunny’s magical staff thingee, Fred never develops any rabbitlike tendencies. Tim Allen might need a paunch belly and long white beard to be Santa Claus, but James Marsden is perfect for the Easter Bunny just the way he is. Also, E.B. abandons his dream of drumming in a band and becomes “co-Easter Bunny” with Fred. Could a more gutless ending be imagined? I can’t think of one.
The hunt for bin Laden may be over, but let’s not forget: Hop is still in theaters, and will soon be coming to DVD.
It’s not often that I encounter a Line I Wish I Had Written right in the headline of a review, but here’s a case in point.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.