April 25, 2011

Hop, With Russell Brand: A Life Lesson For 4 Year Olds

"Hop? I'm not watching that." Well, your kids might, so you'll want to know what narrative America is using to raise them. You may not be interested in pop culture, but pop culture is interested in you them.

The Easter Bunny runs a huge candy factory, staffed by little chicks, and they make easter baskets and deliver them on Easter morning.   It's the family business, in operation for "four thousand years," and he wants his son, EB, to take over ("someday, son, you will be crowned king of the Easter Factory!")

hop easter bunny and eb.JPG

But the boy, EB, played by Russell Brand, is a slacker-- running a business isn't his bag, man.   So he sneaks out one night and heads to-- where else-- Hollywood.

The set up is basic enough but remember this is 2011.   Kids don't set off on adventure anymore, especially those who stand to inherit the motherlode.  And what's up with that? How do you make a 2011 American audience accept the existence of a corporate monarchy?   How do you make transferring an enormously important institution to the oldest son okay with the 9% unemployment crowd, angry at corporate perks? 

There's other trouble, too: while the bunnies have been at it for 4000 years, so have the chicks.  Generation after generation, they've been working in the factory with no investment in the company, no chance for advancement.

So how do you make feudalism palatable to Americans?  Answer: make the bunnies British, and it simply won't occur to the audience that there is anything odd about the arrangement.  So the Easter Bunny is British.  Never mind he's a German creation brought to us by the Amish.

They put Santa Claus at the North Pole. Where should they put the Easter Bunny's headquarters?  Remember-- he's British. No guess? Easter Island. They access the massive underground candy factories by entering a secret door in the base of the statues.

Now, you can be forgiven for thinking it's just a clever/lazy use of the name, but they didn't put Christmas on Christmas Island and make Santa's tagline, "Crickey!" So is there anything else we should know about Easter Island?

Well, the folklore of the land has it that there were originally two groups of people on Easter Island: dark skinned Polynesians, called Short Ears; and early white settlers/enslavers called Long Ears. You can take it from there.

easter island.jpg


Over in America a parallel story is unfolding, but instead of feudalism it's more late stage capitalism. Successful Dad has a successful adult daughter, and the rule in movies is if you want to depict a woman as successful, you make her super hot but put her in glasses or a suit jacket. "I just got a promotion!" she announces at the dinner table as the buttons on her blouse strain to contain her success. But Dad also has a slacker son, Fred, who's 30 and has no valuable skills. But unlike EB, Fred has no legacy to inherit, and he doesn't want to leave home.

Wait a second, who's that other kid sitting there next to the daughter? 

espensen hop.jpg

There's an extra daughter there. She's Chinese (=successful), I put her at 8. Why is she there?  If the son is 30, figure that they adopted her around his college graduation.  Hmmm. You almost think they adopted her because Fred was such a disappointment, and you think this partly because the only thing she says at the dinner table is, "sometimes I think you adopted me because Fred was such a disappointment."  Hush, child, "that is a very hurtful statement!" To Fred. Crickey.  It's a scene that would cringe you into tetanus if you weren't distracted by the blonde with the successes.   Phew, scene saved.

Personal note: it's a kids' movie, so they have to sterilize everything.  So we have a table with four adults eating a sumptuous meal, drinking from goblets, but not one person is drinking alcohol.   Are there families in America that simply don't drink?  I don't trust anyone not on probation who doesn't have wine at their table; and, while we're at it, I don't trust any man who drinks milk. Keep your hands where I can see them and no, I am not letting my kids come over.

So while creepy Dad drinks iced tea with lemon, he gives some advice to Fred.  Guess what the advice is:  settle. "Forget about 'great', just settle for a job that's good."  Where have I heard that before?

Mom agrees: "settling is fine," she says wistfully.   And she looks away dreamily.  This may seem like a throwaway line except that delivered by an attractive middle aged woman it's drowning in innuendo.  America isn't the land of hopes and dreams, it's the land of no prospects and settling.  Remember this, we'll come back to it.


We have to think about the dichotomy between the two families. The Easter business is serious business.  It's a family business, sure, but a huge one, employing innumerable chicks. But "someday, son, you will be crowned king of the Easter Factory" is the kind of thing Huffington Post puts as a headline to make you hate white people.

Any chance we might inadvertently identify with the chicks?   They're basically indentured servants. Minimum wage, no benefits.  Don't Americans resent dynasties, nepotism?  One chick-- the foreman of the factory-- wants to be the next Easter Bunny and retool the factory to make some chick-friendly treats. He tries to impress the boss with his skills, his ability to run the business. He works very hard, he even hops and wears bunny ears to show how serious he is.


Meanwhile, EB, the true heir, couldn't care less about the business, he squanders his advantages and turns up the music. So the chick gets resentful of EB and you can't blame him: "enjoy your life of privilege," he mutters under his breath.

So even though post-Crash Americans might naturally identify with the chicks over the rabbits, in the movie the rabbits have to be the good guys and the chicks are the bad guys.  So what do the chicks have to do to earn our hatred?

I wish I was making this up: they're Marxists.  The main conflict comes when the chick leads a worker's revolt against the Easter Bunny and take over the means of production, so right away you have the worst kind of bad guys.  Now make that hatred visceral, make that chick different from us, make it natural to hate him.  Making him a black chick would have been way too obvious and racist, so they went with the next best thing: they made him Hispanic.

That's right, the bad guy in this movie is Carlos, complete with Hank Azaria's Dr. Nick Riviera  Mexican accent, the face of organized labor.   That's what we call a bad guy.


Let's turn to page 60 in the script like any good studio exec would. What's the pivot, the script's sell?

Fred and EB have interrupted Fred's Chinese sister's school play. She's Peter Cottontail, and sings, terribly, the bunny song.  That would be a cheap Chinese copy of the original.   It irritates EB, who stops the show and starts a duet with Fred that culminates in a full audience sing along of "I Want Candy."  It's great, it's American, and everyone's thrilled.   Well, maybe the little girl would be sad that she was interrupted and upstaged?  They don't show that.  My mistake-- they feature it.

hop play.jpg

I can accept a talking bunny, but I can't envision a scenario in which a grown man interrupts a school play, hurting the feelings of a little girl, that does not result in his being stabbed in the neck. But everyone in this movie thinks it's great.

She may be dressed like a bunny but she's a chick, a stand in.  Remember, she's not the star of the family, is she?  She was just there to keep the family afloat until he got his act together, and now that Fred's stock is on the rise we don't much need for her services.  She is, after all, Chinese.  And cut.


EB gets his big chance to play drums on David Hasselhoff's TV variety show.   He's in his dressing room, and a production assistant opens the door to tell him he's on next.  The production assistant is (human) Russell Brand.  EB says under his breath, "hello, who's this gorgeous devil?"  Get it?   Yes, we get it. But take it at face value: why would EB find a human male gorgeous?

Remember, EB's arc requires him to escape his legacy and do what he wants (drumming); and Fred's arc requires him to find a career in a land where there aren't any.  So, in the final resolution of the movie, Fred decides he wants to be the Easter Bunny.  That's what he's going to do with the rest of his life.   NB this is a hereditary monarchy and he's not a bunny.  Also NB the actual Easter Bunny and his son are still alive.   So?

So EB and Fred form a partnership, hmm, an odd sort of partnership, officiated by his father who says this:

"Place your fingers on the Wand of Destiny.  By the power vested in me, I pronounce EB and Fred O'Hare... co-Easter Bunnies!"   And everyone cheers.

Where have you ever heard the words, "by the power vested in me?"  That's right, it's a domestic partnership, a marriage of sorts, and rather than try and un-pc figure out which one's the girl and which one's the boy simply observe that person B finds actualization by completely subsuming his own identity into the business of person A, who in turn gets the leisure time to pursue other interests (like drumming.)  That, my fellow 4 year olds, is an American fairy tale.

(reposted/edited from partialobjects)