Hop Dir. Tim Hill

[Universal Pictures; 2011]

Styles: big-budget CGeye-candy, kids
Others: Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Spongebob SquarePants Movie, Mary Poppins

With Pixar in mind as the golden standard for both CGI and kids movies these days, it can be either a depressing or kind of a heartening experience to sit through another in the glut of sub-Pixar material that competing studios keep churning out. Depressing because you know you’re watching the work of the less-talented, the less-creative, the less-dedicated-to-good-storytelling; kind of heartening because, in the end, at least you’re watching a big-budget CGI movie — and big-budget CGI movies, even the ones from lesser animation studios, still cost too damn much to have been tossed off by amateurs.

So even a movie like Hop, essentially the same uplifting Christmas movie we’re offered every holiday season but with the Easter Bunny substituted for Santa, is finely polished and more visually inventive than the majority of live-action kids movies. When you’ve committed to spending four years and $100 million on computer effects that will be unbelievably difficult to reshoot, you tend to hire proven talent and think twice before you commit anything to screen.

But starting out from a plateau of high-craft mediocrity is a pretty sad boon for any movie to lay claim to. Being a product of the man who made Alvin and the Chipmunks and the sequel to Garfield, it’s not surprising that Hop doesn’t reach much higher than its visual acuity. It’s nice to look at; its story moves briskly; the jokes, aimed alternately at innocent little kids and their (presumably) more irony-aware parents, are clever and swift. But it’s about nothing more than what we see on the surface: a live-action human (James Marsden), while experiencing a Failure to Launch-esque manchild crisis, serendipitously crosses paths with the son of the Easter Bunny, a computer-generated rabbit coincidentally dealing with the same quandary. The two adventure across a fantastically shiny Los Angeles — at one point benefiting from the sage advice of David Hasselhoff (director Tim Hill had a hand in the similarly Hasselhoff-cameo’d The Spongebob Squarepants Movie) — and arrive at a series of mega-happy resolutions that overwhelmingly please everyone involved.

Above-average for a movie about a wisecracking anthropomorphic rabbit is forgivable, and it may seem about as much as the parents being dragged in could reasonably ask. But in a world of WALL·Es and Ponyos, it still feels like a waste of talent.

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