Movie review: 'Hop'

When it comes to notable secular Easter movies, there's Fred Astaire at the parade with Judy Garland and little else. But with the seasonal ubiquity of candy, eggs and bunnies, it's hardly a shock that an animation company would wring some type of festive, sentimental kids' flick out of so commercially tinged and cute animal-friendly a holiday.

The animation/live-action "Hop" — from the producing-writing team behind last year's "Despicable Me," and director Tim Hill, of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" fame — is that very entry, and it's almost unashamedly middle of the road about its intentions. Its narrative is lifted from Christmas movies, stop-motion specials and Roald Dahl; its CGI renderings are no better or worse than last month's or next month's animation family outing. Its vocal talent — led by Russell Brand and Hugh Laurie — is suitably star-powered.

The only thing missing is any real wonder, imagination or comic verve.

Brand voices E.B., teenage rabbit heir to the noble mantle of Easter Bunny, currently held by his tradition-bound father (Laurie). But E.B.'s dream is to be a rock drummer, not run the massive, Wonka-esque candy factory manned by worker chicks deep below Easter Island — you got it, with the statues — so the Easter Bunny can dispense treat-filled baskets to children everywhere once a year. (Just to keep the yuletide inspirations upfront, the gig even involves a sleigh-like transport led by floating chicks.)

The live-action part comes when E.B. flees destiny — through, what else?, a rabbit hole — for Hollywood, running into Fred (James Marsden), a jobless slacker house-sitting a mansion. Their destinies intertwine when E.B. tries out for a TV talent show, and Fred believes he can become the Easter Bunny.

The Pink Berets, a trio of rappelling, dart-blowing bunny guards dispatched to retrieve E.B., are an overused sight gag, since they never become actual characters. Chelsea Handler is wasted — no, not on vodka — in a humorless cameo as a prospective employer of Fred's. And why is it that the piece's nominal villain is a coup-organizing Speedy Gonzales-accented factory chick (voiced by Hank Azaria), while his boss rabbit speaks like a posh Brit? Or is that a class-race over-read?

"Hop" doesn't mean to offend. It's basically an Easter egg hunt where the organizers aren't interested in a difficult or surprising task for participants, who in this case will be mostly an under-10 audience ready to pester parents before, during and after the movie for candy.

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