As a 25-year-old Jewish man I’m about as far removed from the Hop target demographic as one could get. I’ve never celebrated Easter, I consequently have no strong emotional attachment to the Easter Bunny and I’m not overwhelmed by the notion of a drummer Easter Bunny that sounds an awful lot like Russell Brand and poops out jelly beans.

Yet, here we are, faced with the strange phenomenon of an obsessively-tested, painstakingly-commercial, carefully-calibrated product that shouldn’t be any good at all somehow defying those odds. From director Tim Hill, this live action-animation hybrid is more than just a one-note marketing machine, despite those incessant ads on every conceivable NBC Universal platform and the salesman’s desperation that underwrites it.

A blatant stab at surrounding the Easter Bunny with a mythology comparable to Santa’s, the picture unfolds in two settings. The first: Easter Island, home to the enormous factory that’s home base for Easter operations, filled with cascading waterfalls of chocolate and bursts of colorful candy dyes. There, teenage rabbit E.B. (Russell Brand) is being groomed by dad (Hugh Laurie) to take over the family business. The picture’s second main locale is the slightly less exotic Los Angeles, where slacker Fred (James Marsden) lives a tired, aimless existence.

Our heroes’ destinies collide when E.B. flees his fate through a magical wormhole of sorts, lands in Hollywood and thanks to Fred nearly becomes the world’s most famous road kill. The tandem grows ever-closer from there, as Fred (quickly getting over any pretense of shock at E.B.’s anthropomorphism) helps his bunny friend realize his dream of, um, playing drums for David Hasselhoff.

To best approach Hop, shut down your mental faculties and let the candy-coated sugar rush wash over. Somewhere amid a cover of “I Want Candy,” a factory revolt led by a crazed Latino chick (Hank Azaria) and Marsden’s incessant mugging, the over-calculated blend of pop cultural archetypes starts to exude its own unique charm.

There’s something to the whole Brand-as-bunny thing. The actor’s comic persona snugly fits voice-over work, as it trades in large part on an exultant blend of childlike enthusiasm. Marsden, in a part that’s more difficult than it might seem, affects a similarly wide-eyed innocence, a detachment from reality that’s entirely genuine, spurred not by magic jellybeans, if you know what I mean. They’re an appealing misfit duo, admirably standing against the currents of real-world obligations to go where they wanna go and do what they wanna do, as The Mamas & The Papas put it.

Hill (Alvin and the Chipmunks) will never be mistaken for Terrance Malick, but he orchestrates the chaos rather well, understanding the basic principle in mass market family entertainment: Keep things light and fast and throw the adults sufficient pop cultural-referencing bones. Plus, his movie fulfills the “Golden Hasselhoff” rule, which holds that any work of art blessed with The Hoff’s presence is all the better for it.

The Upside: The movie’s pretty funny and entertaining, against some seriously imposing odds.

The Downside: It’s also so blatantly commercial and market-driven that one can’t help but feel a bit guilty enjoying it.

On the Side: Yes, we liked Hop. No, we can’t believe it either.

Grade: B


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