The Theory of Chaos

Saturday, September 22, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Originally published 10/20/05
Full review behind the jump

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

: Nick Park and Steve Box
: Nick Park, Steve Box, Bob Baker and Mark Burton, based on the characters created by Nick Park
: Nick Park, Peter Lord, Claire Jennings, Carla Shelley, David Sproxton
Featuring the Vocal Talents of
: Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Kay, Nicholas Smith

The charms of Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit are quite literally handmade – if you look closely you can sometimes see the odd thumbprint on their clay heads where they’ve been sculpted and posed. From their troika of riotous and inventive shorts they now make the leap to feature-length product with all their sublime whimsy and veddy British quirks intact.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a consistently hilarious and almost indecently adorable outing from Aardman Animation, also the makers of Chicken Run. When you fill the screen with little bunnies that thump their furry chests and howl at the moon, you’re just not playing fair.

The relationship between our two heroes is intact in transition. Wallace (Peter Sallis) is a boundlessly-optimistic idiot savant – he loves cheese, is naïve and woolly-headed in his dealings with the outside world, but in his workshop cooks up gadgets that reveal a bottomless supply of imagination, joy, and enthusiasm for gears and levers and big buttons. This time around he’s not only founded a successful pest-control service (called “Anti-Pesto”) that uses the humane, non-lethal BunVac 6000 to suck rabbits out of your vegetable patch, he’s also tinkering with a glass helmet which will suck bad thoughts out of your head.

Gromit is his devoted dog, certainly the more domesticated and self-reliant of the pair; he must work long hours protecting Wallace from his own genius. It brings a consistent smile to my face that the mute Gromit is the most emotionally-expressive creature in these adventures. Dialogue would be superfluous – his worried brow and his ping-pong ball eyes, often rolling skyward in exasperation, tell all.

Their humble little village is abuzz with the approaching Giant Vegetable competition, hosted every year by Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), who has thick, bright lipstick around the Aardman trademark wide elliptical mouth, and dresses in uncannily vegetable-like ways. She’s being wooed by the pale and irritable Vincent Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), who believes that every problem eventually boils down to finding something to shoot.

So Anti-Pesto is working overtime to protect everyone’s over-sized carrots and cabbages from the hordes of burrowing bunnies. And things only get worse when a mysterious creature begins to stalk the town at night, eating everything in sight and leaving devastation in its wake. Reverend Hedges (Nicholas Smith) fulfills the clerical role in fog-shrouded monster stories like this and whips up hysteria about a mythical beast known as the Were-Rabbit.

Naturally he has a thick and ancient book all about Monsters like the Were-Rabbit and how to do away with them. The book’s author, glimpsed in a flash on the cover, is “Claude Savagely”. You can always appreciate a movie that takes the extra time to stick little gags and puns in the corner of the frame for you to discover and treasure, like the sticker on the back of Wallace’s van that reads: “Eat Cheese Now. Ask me how.” It’s a sign you’re in the hands of entertainers who want to share how much fun they’re having with you. Once they’ve won you over like that, you forgive the familiar jokes because they’re done with such zest and timing.

There’s a true balance to inspiration, you can’t choke the audience with delights, but must roll them out at a varied but steadily increasing pace. Wallace and Gromit, true to their shorter adventures, are masters at sustaining this pace right up to an action-packed climax whose many pleasures I dearly wish to talk about, but won’t.

The contrast between our heroes, and the way they can always depend on each other, is key. The Buster Keaton antics of Gromit never wear thin because we can always jump to some daffy wordplay and slapstick from Wallace, or more painfully-cute bunny antics. And in the expansion of their formerly-hermetic world to include a whole town full of eccentrics – Fiennes’ relish-filled reading of Quartermaine deserves both praise and laughter – these two have never had so large a playpen.

On the technical level there’s a definite increase in smoothness and detail, along with a sparing few touches of computer effects. But part of what I like about Wallace and Gromit is that they’re still just a little herky-jerky. What might become crudity due to the limitations of their construction becomes a kind of style, and I live to see Gromit’s peculiar four-footed shuffle and the endearing quality of Wallace’s wide, blank eyes. At first that expression could seem vacant, but its incomprehension of the world is not for lack of ability. It’s just that the playground of his inner fancy is too distracting to take in much else. Except the cheese.

Lady Tottington’s eyes are similar. Maybe that’s why there’s such a spark between the two of them. But they’d never end up together, oh no. Wallace has his partner for life, and as long as they’re together, all’s right with the world.

P.S.: Hopefully it is the same at all theatres, the showing I saw was proceeded by an animated short featuring the penguins from the CGI feature Madagascar. Not having seen the movie that spawned them, I probably didn’t get all the jokes, but it’s a peppy and silly little adventure that not only features the most vicious fluffy dog rendered in digital, but the first instance I’ve ever seen of a penguin regurgitating a stick of dynamite.


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