In 10 Words or Less
Following in dad's oversized, four-toed footsteps.
Loves: Good animation, Hank Azaria
Likes: Russell Brand, Kaley Cuoco, Easter
Dislikes: Live-action/animation hybrids
Hates: Black licorice
Having finally watched the excellent Arthur Christmas, I thought my holiday movie watching was done until about November, but then a Christmas film arrived, camouflaged in pastel. Hop, an animation/live-action hybrid released about a year after its debut in theaters, just in time for the Easter buying rush, is another story about the son of a holiday icon chafing against expectations he'll follow in the family business, only this time it's the business of delivering Easter candy rather than gifts to Christians.
E.B., voiced by Russell Brand, is the slacker teen son of the real Easter Bunny, (also British, as portrayed by Hugh Laurie) and he's being prepped to take over the annual delivery of candy to children on Easter, a one-day event that mirrors the efforts of Saint Nick, right down to the sled. The problem is, he'd rather play drums than drop off chocolate and jelly beans, and when it comes time for him to lead the way, he hits the road, running away from his destiny on Easter Island (natch), all the way to Hollywood, where he can make his dreams come true. It's there that he meets Fred (James Marsden), his human analogue, who's also struggling with expectations and a general unwillingness to grow up.
Though kids might enjoy the fuzzy animated hi-jinks of E.B., the Pink Beret girl bunny ninjas pursuing him and the chicks running things on Easter Island (led by Hank Azaria, voicing two roles), the bulk of the movie lies with Marsden and his human family, which is rounded out by his mom and dad (Elizabeth Perkins and Gary Cole) and his sister Sam (The Big Bang Theory's Kaley Cuoco.) His maturity and unemployment issues intertwine with E.B.'s and they need each other's help if they're to get out of their respective situations. Unsurprisingly, when the humans were the focus, that's when my daughter's focus waned (as did my own), as this quality group of actors didn't have a great deal to do, and were no match for the fuzzy wuzzies, especially when E.B. gets to be a part of the best mayhem (and gets to share an intimate scene with David Hasselhoff.)
Brand is actually quite good as the voice of the wayward teen, and whether it's a case of freewheeling improv or writing with the actor well in mind, the part of E.B. plays to Brand's strengths, whipping out wit and intelligence to spare. There's quite a bit that's likely to sail well over the heads of the youngsters watching, but it's only likely to appeal to audiences already inured to Brand's particular style of comedy, as it's quick and underplayed. It's the mute Pink Berets and the over-the-top Carlos the chick (Azaria at his most manically Latin) that will get the most attention, since they interact almost exclusively with other CG creations, and get far more high-energy moments to shine. It doesn't add up to a lot though, as the final third of the film feels rushed and unfulfilling (with Cole suffering the most unmotivated character transformation in film history.) There are repurposed elements from other films, missed opportunities, plot holes and just lazy writing all over the place.
It's easy to wonder if this film would have been better had been entirely animated, as it would have freed the movie from the odd match between the not-quite real E.B. and the very real world he inhabits. Considering director Tim Hill's track record in the hybrid genre, which includes Alvin and the Chipmunks and a Garfield sequel, and Illumination Entertainment's success with Despicable Me (and moderate success with The Lorax), you'd have to think Hop as a pure cartoon could have been much more entertaining, even if the story at its core has been done frequently in the past, even if only due to the possibility of visual fireworks. When you're serving up rehashed stories, it's always best to make them look as good as possible.
This film arrives in a two-disc set housed in a single-width BD keepcase, which is wrapped in an embossed slipcover that repeats the cover art. The disc features the usual Universal blu-ray menu structure with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the languages and check out the extras, plus how-to info and BD-Live access to Universal content. Audio options include an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks, and an English DVS track, while subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish.
Hop arrives with a 1080p VC-1-encoded transfer that doesn't hold up against the quality animation presentations we've seen on Blu-Ray, thanks in large part to some issues with noise and some digital distractions, including some compression problems that were a tad surprising. Perhaps it's difficult to match CG animation to live-action when the animated elements don't look particularly real (as is the case with Hop's fantasy menagerie), but there was often a level of separation between the elements when they interacted, seen most clearly when Cuoco's character holds E.B. Most of the film looks pretty good though, with deep, dark black levels, appropriately rich color and a good level of fine detail, apparent in the various furs and feathers.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does a fine job with a mix that sets its priorities as making sure the dialogue is clean and clear and the music is powerful. There are no problems hearing the characters, whose voices have fine clarity and separation, and the soundtrack gets plenty of boost in the surround speakers. Sound effects are given a good deal of heft, though without some of the directionality you might expect from an animated affair (especially during some of the more action-oriented scenes later in the film.) The bass picks up some of the slack, as the LFE is a big part of the mix, helping pad out the sound of the film to powerful effect.
Phil's Dance Party (3:14) is apparently what the cover art means by "All New Mini-Movie" however it has no plot and no backgrounds either, as star chicks from the film, Phil and Carlos, dance against a plain white background. Worse yet, they didn't even bother getting Azaria back to voice the characters, instead getting weak soundalikes. This is probably the least impressive short film I've seen packaged in a big-league animated movie home release.
"The World of Hop" is a six-part featurette (running a total of just over nine minutes) covering various elements in the film, including the actors and characters. They are mostly fluff, but if you enjoy Brand and Azaria, it's fun to hear from them. Annoyingly though, there's no play-all function, which, depending on the speed of your player, could frustrate you with each visit to the menu.
"All Access with Cody Simpson" is a 2:28 featurette that seems to be intended to make any non-child watcher feel very old, as this Aussie teen singer talks about the manufactured way his cover of "I Want Candy" came together, before he hits the film's kid-friendly, candy-fueled premiere.
"Russell Brand: Being the Bunny" (1:07) is an exceedingly short collection of audio clips of Brand talking about his prep for the film, animated in a modern Monty Python style. He's then back in his real form in "Russell Brand's Kid Crack-Ups" (2:57) which pairs the comic with a group of kids, in a modern take on "Kids Say The Darndest Things," centered around the film. Brand, with help from Cuoco, asks them questions about the movie, the actors and various Easter-related questions, looking for cute and/or funny responses. Some are obtained, but its too short to really build up any energy.
"Carlos on Carlos: The Hop Premiere According to Carlos" (3:30) is footage from the red carpet shot from a low angle, with Carlos's narration, as he "interviews" his co-stars and generally obsesses over himself. It's as awkward as you could imagine. "Emotion in Motion: The Dance of Ken Daurio" (2:34) is another mock featurette focusing on Daurio's work in choreographing animated characters like Phil (and he also happens to be one of the film's writers.) They are followed by "Post-Coup Commentary: Carlos and Phil Tell All" (2:59) which is a mildly-amusing commentary from the two characters over a series of clips from the film.
There are a pair of Blu-Ray-exclusive extras offered under the U-Control branding, but despite the content they add to the film, they end up more aggravating than they need to be. "HOP Tweets" and "Pink Beret Tracker" are essentially suped-up "trivia tracks," delivered with the improved presentation of Blu-Ray. "HOP Tweets" are notes and thoughts about what's happening on-screen from E.B., complete with official Twitter branding and style, while "Pink Beret Tracker" adds little bits of animation and facts (like locations shown and soundtrack info, in the form of smartphone cut-ins. The problem is, you have to watch for small on-screen cues in the bottom corner of the screen to activate them, which makes it more like a job than a way to be entertained. If I have this feature activated, I want to see it, so just show it to me.
Three set-top games are also included. First up is "Drum Along," a surprisingly simple Simon-like game where you have to repeat four sets of drum beats. Then, "E.B.'s Candy Challenge" is a board game with mini-games mixed in, where you play timed rounds of spot-the-difference or complete puzzles (some of which were actually frustrating, especially the panic-inducing, Rain Man-friendly final round.) Finally there's "Pink Beret Skill Tester," a combination of observation tests that falls somewhere between the first two in terms of difficulty. Blu-Ray games have usually been light years better than the old DVD versions, and these fall in that range, but it still would be nice to get something out of them, like access to an extra, even if it is a minor one.
One extra that few viewers will get to enjoy is the D-BOX motion code, which is included on the disc, which has film-specific controls for D-BOX motion systems, which moves seating to enhance the movie. Unless you have the money for a custom home theater installation, you probably can't afford D-BOX, and if you can afford a custom home theater and D-BOX, the price of a Blu-Ray disc isn't likely to be much of a concern, so why are you reading this. Just buy every D-BOX enabled disc. I wouldn't mind trying it out though if any of our readers have one installed.
Also included is a code to stream the film on your computer, tablet or phone, using the Ultraviolet streaming service.
The Bottom Line
Hop is certainly one of the more disappointing big-studio sort-of-animated releases in recent memory, as it doesn't appeal to either side of the aisle, with two little of the fuzzy animal fun for kids and not much of anything for older viewers. The Blu-Ray release, though seemingly packed at first, is mostly made up of fluff, like the bottom of the Easter baskets of old, giving us mainly kid-pleasing bits of extras and a good, but not great presentation. Waiting a year may help the bottom line, but it's just made viewers wait far longer than they ever should have for a middling comedy confection.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.