Sep 272005
 

Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0312004/

Starring the voices of:  Peter Sallis (Wallace), Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Kay, Nicholas Smith
Directed By:  Nick Park & Steve Box

Synopsis:  Wallace & Gromit try to protect the vegetable gardens of their village from the fearsome were-rabbit.

**One teeny tiny spoiler contained herein**

Okay, let me declare right from the outset – not only have I loved almost all of the animation produced by the Aardman studios, including the three previous Wallace and Gromit short films, but I am a huge stop motion/clay animation fan.  Harryhausen huge in fact.  So I was pre-disposed to love this film simply because I find the form of animation it uses inspiring and thrilling in a way that few other things can match.  However, I did feel some trepidation about this film.  I was afraid that Nick Park’s association with DreamWorks pictures would render his beloved Wallace and Gromit as toothless as the ho-hum hens from ‘Chicken Run’ – his first full length clay animation feature.  Yet, within five minutes of the opening credits I was relieved to find that Wallace & Gromit, in their first full length feature film, have lost none of their whimsical appeal.

Nick Park seems to have done a very savvy thing.  On the basis of the appeal of the Wallace and Gromit short films he was able to make a deal with the devil and obtain the financial backing for a full length feature.  However instead of testing the waters with Wallace and Gromit, Park made ‘Chicken Run’, an entirely unrelated story and with a new cast of characters.  This film, while certainly enjoyable, was Park’s crash test dummy to take on American audiences.  Hurtling towards them it represented a toned down version of Park’s trademark twee humour.  You could see Jeffrey Katzenberg’s fingers all over it.  It was still British, but not too British.  It had an American character (voiced by Mel Gibson) to help hook an American audience in.  It had everything that other Nick Park creations had except, for me, lasting appeal.  It was an enjoyable film with a few genuine laugh out loud moments, but it lacked the real cultural ethos of the Wallace and Gromit universe.  The particular quirkiness of Park’s previous creations had been sanitised, the action of the piece restricted, and while it was somewhat clever and amusing it simply had no heart – for me at least.

What am I trying to say?  Well lets face it, American movie producers have an uncanny ability to take something unique and funny and drain all the life out of it.  More so if they are actually paying the bills and are trying to make it palatable to every last snaggle toothed trailer park dweller who has a spare few bucks to spend on entertainment.  What I was afraid would happen was that after the acceptable performance of ‘Chicken Run’ the Wallace and Gromit film would have all the resonance of a hammer striking a piece of lead.  However, remember when I asserted that Nick Park had done something savvy?  Well, it would appear that he used the success of ‘Chicken Run’ (and it was a success) to ensure that he had an entirely free hand with Wallace and Gromit.  So while I could spy the fingerprints of the animators on Gromit’s face in some scenes, I could not detect a whiff of Katzenberg, Spielberg or Geffen.  As a result,’ Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ is “a cracking good film”.

What did I like?  Well, what was there not to like!  Were there crazy inventions?  Check!  Were there hilarious portrayals of quaint English folk and their special brand of mania?  Did all the humans sport grotesque slab-like buck teeth that make you both cringe and smile?  Check, check!  Were there a number of references to cheese?  Did Wallace pronounce things to be ‘cracking’?  Was there much hand waving and hi-jinks and did Gromit suffer bravely through it all?  Was there whimsy by the bucket load?  Check, check, check and check!

I don’t really want to reveal too much of the plot if I can.  I just want to emphasise that Nick Park and his compatriots really got this movie right.  Gromit, the silent protagonist, is as long suffering as ever as Wallace’s partner in…well life I guess.  They now run a successful security business and protect the gardens of their village against all marauders – which seem to mainly take the form of rabbits.  There is much enjoyment to be had from the rabbits which are, in trademark Nick Park/Aardman fashion, a good blend of cute and…well…ugly I guess (they have piggy little noses).  The rabbits and the advent of the titular were-rabbit are the backbone of the plot which centers around a vegetable growing competition held by Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter).  Add into the mix a slimy Lord Victor Quartermaine (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) and a gaggle of delightfully dotty villagers (the village priest is lots of fun and has what can only be described as an astounding white afro) and there is loads of fun to be had.

What I really enjoyed (and what was, in the main, missing from ‘Chicken Run’) was the minutiae of the Wallace and Gromit world.  The level of detail in each scene, right down to the wallpaper on the walls is astounding.  I can barely begin to comprehend the work that goes into dressing each of the scenes let alone animating the characters in it.  No wonder the film took 5 years to make!  I love that so much effort is placed on making the world believably real.  You can even see the actual fingerprints of the animators left in the clay of the models in some scenes.  This is no flaw.  It is exactly what was missing from Chicken Run and what makes clay animation so beguiling.  A sense of the tactile nature of the clay itself in the film is very important in my opinion.  Erasing these marks to make everything perfect is a mistake Park has not made this time and it makes a big difference.

You will need to see this movie at least twice.   Once for the story and once more for the little details that your eye cannot take in when concentrating on the narrative.  And then probably once again, just for the heck of it.  I still love watching the short Wallace and Gromit films.  Part of me was hoping for a glimpse of Shaun the sheep, or even an oblique reference to the evil penguin from ‘The Wrong Trousers’ in this film.  Park did not satisfy that hope but it was no real loss.  The film handles its load of expectation and delivers an entirely new story without having to resort to becoming self referential (as sometime happens if there is a dearth of good ideas).  Although I do have to say that Park has been unable to quite match the level of implacable malice shown by the penguin in any of his newer villains (Preston from ‘A Close Shave’ or Lord Victor Quartermaine in this movie).

I look forward to more adventures with Wallace and Gromit on the big screen with…I was going to say bated breath, but considering the time it takes to make one, perhaps not.  Definitely spend your dollars and go see this one at the movies.

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