Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)Rated G.
Starring the voices of Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Kay, Nicholas Smith.
LVJeff's Rating: 10/10
Photo ©DreamWorks Animation. All rights reserved.
It's All in the Expression
Though Nick Park may be better known to movie audiences as the co-director/creator of Chicken Run, his more devout fans will remember "Wallace & Gromit" came first. Appearing in three stop-motion animated shorts in the early '90s, the naive inventor and his faithful dog made their biggest splash in The Wrong Trousers. This half-hour delight gave us everything we needed to know about this comedy duo -- how Wallace's technological engineering skills are matched by a blissful obliviousness, how Gromit is always a step ahead of his master, and how their adventures are conveyed with an expressive, physical spirit that would make them feel at home among silent comedies.
The Wrong Trousers made its fans, myself included, want more. The other two available "Wallace & Gromit" shorts filled the time nicely, but I couldn't help feeling a bit disappointed when I found out Park's first venture into feature-length animation was going to be about chickens. Of course, Chicken Run was fabulous, but just the same I wanted a "Wallace & Gromit" movie. Now, finally, here it is -- and it's entirely worth the wait.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a comic bonanza in which our two heroes find themselves in an expanded animated setting, a perfect satirical take on fussy middle-class Britain. Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his best friend have found a lucrative business protecting the gardens of their neighbors from rabbits, an especially growing concern in light of the upcoming annual giant vegetable contest, presided by Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter). The concerns of this world are hilariously insular, and the conflict chosen for it suits it perfectly -- the menace of an out-of-nowhere giant rabbit would cause little dismay to anyone else, but, to the residents of this burg, it's the most frightening thing they could imagine, a creature that devours those prize vegetables in the dark of the night.
Wallace & Gromit are so easy to love because, above all else, their good nature shines through. Wallace is unassuming and eager to help, while Gromit is the epitome of patient loyalty. He may roll his eyes at his master at times, but no one can be counted on more to help Wallace out of a pinch. A point is also made about their particular brand of pest control -- their rabbit-trapping company, "Anti-Pesto," specializes in humane treatment of the bunnies they catch. Naturally, the villain of the piece is a rifle-toting egotist, Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), opposite to the main characters in every way.
Comedy, though, is the main name of the game. The movie features a smorgasbord of puns, both verbal and visual. Its humor is clever and clearly attuned to sight gag potential, which is not surprising given the nature of Gromit's character. Gromit never utters a sound; in fact, he has no visible mouth. Yet, he's one of the funniest comic creations ever to reach the big screen. With little else but a pair of closely-situated eyes and a versatile brow, he can display almost a limitless array of expressions. He's a deft combination of ocular takes and body language. The sweetness (and sometimes bittersweetness) of this universe, the characters' abilities to milk sympathy with their innate goodness, and the visual comedy of faces, absurdity, and motion allow Wallace & Gromit to fill a space left by likes of Charles Chaplin.
The releases of Corpse Bride and now The Curse of the Were-Rabbit bring me much joy -- joy to see two excellent and very different examples of stop-motion animation in one year. It's always a wonder to see this medium create such kinetic movies; the arduousness of the work involved only makes sequences like Were-Rabbit's frantic and hysterically funny finale all the more astounding. For me, it's amazing enough that the climactic scenes could even live up to the famous train-track scene in The Wrong Trousers. I didn't think it could be done. Now the sad part is how I might have to wait another five or six years for the next "Wallace & Gromit" movie. For now, I just hope another one is being planned.
©Jeffrey Chen, Oct. 1, 2005