Hoping to capitalize on the recent success of the CGI/live action Alvin & the Chipmunks franchise, Alvin director Tim Hill and the team behind Despicable Me offers their take on what might happen if the son of the current Easter Bunny rejected his legacy. We’ve seen this before with Santa, but never with the Easter Bunny, which brings with it the (low) expectation of candy-laden clichés. But rather than send audiences into sugar shock with inane childish humor, the end result is a refreshingly delightful family film that should appeal to a broad range of ages. By incorporating a rocking soundtrack that spans a variety of artists (from Joel Madden to Stevie Wonder to Taio Cruz) this ensures that older siblings and parents won’t be bored by what could easily have been a tale geared towards the preschool crowd.

In the opening teaser, James Marsden (more likeable here than in most of his rom-com turns) shows a series of portraits depicting the regal lineage of the Easter Bunny before introducing himself as Fred O’Hare (hare…get it?) – the first human Easter Bunny. The action then flashes back twenty years as the current title holder (voiced ceremoniously by Hugh Laurie) takes his son “E.B.” (later to be voiced by an enjoyable Russell Brand) to work with him and exposes him to a candy factory that would make Willy Wonka swoon (or as my nine year old companion deemed it…”heaven.”) Around the same time, childhood Fred is lucky enough to witness the magical delivery of his Easter basket which makes him a lifelong believer.  A lot changes in twenty years, however, as E.B. has developed an affinity for the drums to the exclusion of all else (including the prospect of inheriting dad’s job) and Fred is enjoying life as a recently laid-off slacker, much to the chagrin of his parents (an underutilized Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins,) successful sister Sam (Kaley Cuoco, delightful as Penny on “The Big Bang Theory” but more or less wasted here) and young adopted Chinese sister Alex (Tiffany Espensen), who delivers some of the film’s most snarky comments. “Sometimes I think mom and dad just adopted me because you were such a disappointment, Fred,” she posits.  Producers could have cut the budget with lower profile casting of Fred’s parents or found a better way to work comedic pros Cole and Perkins into the action, but this is a minor complaint and serves to remind us that Fred and E.B. are the film’s focus.

On the eve of his coronation, E.B. escapes through an underground tunnel and travels from Easter Island to Hollywood, hoping to make his rock star dreams come true. This does not disappoint the Easter Bunny’s power-hungry second-in-command, a chick called Carlos (villainously voiced by Hank Azaria) who has designs on the job. At the same moment, a disgruntled Fred storms out of his parents’ house and accidentally taps the runaway bunny with his car on his way to housesit at the mansion of his sister’s boss. Thus, E.B. seizes the opportunity to fake a more serious injury and convinces a disbelieving Fred to shelter him for the night. From there, the action is somewhat formulaic but nonetheless entertaining, as E.B. inadvertently sabotages Fred’s job interview after he learns his father has sent three “Pink Ninja” bunnies to bring him back. Over the course of the action, E.B. strikes a deal with Fred – all Fred has to do to get rid of him is help him audition for David Hasselhoff’s reality show “The Hoff Knows Talent.” The Hoff has an amusing cameo (as does Brand as the show’s stagehand). When Fred questions how he accepts a talking bunny so easily, a straight-faced Hoff, impressed by E.B.’s skill, quips “My best friend is a talking car.”

From there, E.B. seems destined for stardom. But what about that little matter of taking over for his father? A jobless Fred, still enamored of his childhood memories, comes up with the brilliant plan that HE will become the next Easter Bunny, and thus begins an entertaining sequence of him “training” for the role. As he tries to keep E.B.’s presence a secret from his family, a humorous scene ensues during which he disrupts Alex’s school play. (Payback’s a bitch!)

The Pink Ninjas periodically reappear to remind us that E.B. is shirking his duty. They are one of the less enjoyable aspects of the film, but the real antagonist is Carlos. Azaria infuses the chick with an unexpected machismo that makes his role even funnier. The film reaches an expected, over-the-top conclusion with plenty of conflict but nothing too scary for younger viewers.

Hop is not a groundbreaking film by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it aspiring to be. What it aims to do is to take a proven formula and produce an entertaining family film. And by those standards, it is successful. In fact, many theater-goers remarked how nice it was NOT to have to put on 3D glasses for a family film.  Although early buzz decries a flimsy script and threatens to relegate this to the likes of Mars Needs Moms, what the script lack in substance, it makes up for in affability.  Brand brings an understated quality to his role. There is some benign, lowbrow humor (yes, the Easter Bunny poops jelly beans and yes, someone will unwittingly want to eat one) along with several laugh out loud moments that audiences really seemed to enjoy.