There are as many different kinds of Easter movies as there are colours on the most psychedelic Ukrainian Easter egg. From kid-friendly romps like Hop, Russell Brand’s cartoon about an errant Easter Bunny, to the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar to all-singing-all-dancing spectaculars like Easter Parade to sword-and-sandal epics like Ben Hur and solemn retellings of the biblical Easter story like The Greatest Story Ever Told.
Then there are horror films like Easter Bunny, Kill Kill and the terrifying Easter Bunny from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey… so many diverse takes on Easter, but since there’s no way to watch all these movies on Easter weekend, let’s hippity-hop through a list of the bunny’s greatest hits.
Controversial in its time—fundamentalist Bob Jones III denounced it as “blasphemy” without actually watching the film—Jesus of Nazareth, director Franco Zeffirelli’s epic 1977 mini-series, is now considered a classic. Clocking in at a whopping 382 minutes, it’s a reverent look at Jesus’s life from his birth to resurrection starring heavyweights like Laurence Olivier, Anthony Quinn, Anne Bancroft and Christopher Plummer.
From the sacred to the sublime, It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown continues Charles Schultz’s tradition of providing a story for every holiday, both secular and spiritual. The twelfth Peanuts cartoon special sees Linus try to hype up the arrival of the Easter Beagle but only Sally believes him. The rest of the gang is still unsure in light of Linus’s Great Pumpkin Halloween fiasco. This special, now available on DVD, features one of the only times Snoopy ever spoke on screen. He shouts “Hey!” before dancing with bunnies in a fantasy sequence.
Fred Astaire, the legendary song-and-dance-man was no stranger to holiday entertainment. His Christmas special, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, is a Yuletide favorite but he also appeared in no less than three Easter-themed movies and TV shows. Astaire’s movie, Holiday Inn, the 1942 story of a singer who turns his farm house into a dinner theatre on the holidays, is best known for introducing Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, but also produced the tune Easter Parade, which, six years later turned up in the hoofer’s film of the same name.
Finally, years later he played the narrator in the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated The Easter Bunny’s Coming to Town. Set in Kidville, the most child-friendly place on earth, it is the story of how the Easter Bunny came to be.
“Hop,” a new Easter themed flick starring Russell Brand and James Marsden, is probably the only kid’s movie to feature a scene set at the Playboy Mansion. You see, it’s about a wayward rabbit named EB (voice of Russell Brand) searching for a place to live and since bunnies live at Hef’s place it seems like the perfect place for him to crash. Funny? Not really, but that’s what passes for jokes in the literal minded “Hop.”
The movie starts on Easter Island—there’s that literal thinking again—the home base of the Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Laurie) and his son EB. On the other side of the planet Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) is an unemployed SoCal slacker house sitting for his sister’s wealthy boss. Both EB and Fred have one thing in common—daddy issues. EB wants to be a drummer but his father wants him to come into the family business and Fred’s dad wants him to get a job—any job. When EB and Fred hook up in Hollywood the pair might be able to help one another with their problems and in the process save Easter.
“Hop” feels more like an hour-and-a-half advertisement for plush stuffed bunnies than it does a movie. EB and his bunny and Easter chick friends are cute but clearly more time was spent on the marketing angle than the story.
It’s not that the story is bad really, it’s just average, like it was an afterthought. Movies for kids have taken strides forward in recent years but “Hop” feels like a jump backwards. Its humor and broad acting style is directed at little kids, yet the movie is rated PG, which means that parents can’t just send their kids solo. Grown-ups might get a chuckle out of EB’s jellybean gag—he poops jellybeans and says at one point, “I just jellybeaned all over your dreams”—but the odd cameo from David Hasselhoff—he’s going for the William Shatner self-aware shtick—is as funny as you’d imagine a cameo from The Hoff to be. Trust me, there’s not much here for anyone over 4 years old. “Harvey” this ain’t.
There are many reasons to hate “Hop.” Some will find the secularization of Easter offensive; some will be annoyed by the obvious shilling for Easter Bunnies Are Us but the real reason to dislike the movie is that it a lame and lazy excuse for children’s entertainment. Kids get fed enough pabulum in their formative years, they don’t need it at the movies as well.