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Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit   A

DreamWorks Animation / Aardman Features

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: G
Directors: Nick Park, Steve Box
Writers: Steve Box, Nick Park, Mark Burton, Bob Baker
Cast: Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Kay, Nicholas Smith, Liz Smith.

Review by Rob Vaux
"Look, that rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide!"
--Tim the Enchanter (John Cleese), Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Here comes a film that only the cruelest moviegoer would hate. Wallace and Gromit, the cheese-loving, invention-creating, mayhem-inducing dog-and-master pair of Nick Park's delightful animated shorts, have finally been given the big-screen treatment. Park and his associates at Aardman Animations already have a feature hit in 2000's Chicken Run, but their signature duo has never been asked to support more than a half-hour running time. Not only must they step up to a larger platform, but they must do so without losing the wit, the charm, and the easy grace that marked their earlier adventures. Can they meet the challenge? Do you even have to ask?

The amazing thing about Wallace and Gromit is that, for all their success, their work remains humble and unpretentious. Everyone, from Park and co-director Steve Box down to the lowliest animator, understands the essence of their appeal, and no one lets ego get in the way. The greatest testament to the production's philosophy comes in the opening credits: despite the presence of two stars in Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, first billing goes to Peter Sallis, the comparative unknown who provides the indelible voice of Wallace. His canine partner Gromit is silent, of course, but thanks to the Aardman animators, the pooch displays as much personality and soul as his addled master. To them, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit adds an astounding sense of comic timing (which took some doing considering the stop-motion medium), and a daffy plot that feels right at home amid the sinister penguins and sheep rustlers of previous W&G entries.

This time, the enemy is a horrendous cotton-tailed creature of the night, which rises with the full moon and devours the prized vegetable patches of the local townsfolk. As "humane exterminators," Wallace and Gromit have perfected the safe removal of marauding bunnies, thanks to Wallace's inventions and Gromit's stalwart rabbit-nabbing abilities. Their good work has earned the gratitude of the town and the patronage of Lady Tottington (Bonham Carter), whose annual giant vegetable competition is the social event of the year. But now something horrible has risen to thwart their stout efforts: something neither man nor beast but possessing giant furry ears and a ravenous appetite for the carrots and melons that our heroes have pledged to defend. The situation becomes more precarious with the arrival of Lady Tottington's suitor, Victor Quartermaine (Fiennes), who resents Wallace's growing affection for his paramour, and whose solution to the rabbit problem is to blow their fluffy little heads off. His villainy provides another obstacle to overcome, as well as facilitating a quiet message about solving problems without violence.

Beyond that, Park and Box provide plenty of the expected scrapes caused by Wallace's zany creations and solved by Gromit's cool-headed practicality. Like Chicken Run, the sight gags are connected by a solid storyline that keeps them from devolving into random sketches. The plasticine animation is augmented by some computer work, but retains the same handcrafted look that makes Aardman so endearing. While the visual jokes will appease children to no end, the script includes the usual spate of gags for adults (some quite ribald, though cunningly disguised). Park and Box paint the entire affair as a gentle satire of horror films, which does for King Kong and The Wolf Man what Chicken Run did for The Great Escape. The spooky overtones also provide a sense of freshness, making this film more than just a longer version of The Wrong Trousers.

None of it is very surprising, of course. Aardman's previous work sets the bar very high, and everything here readily meets those expectations. If nothing catches us unprepared, it's only because these characters are as reliable as they come, and the fans all know that they'll never let us down. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a fine addition to Aardman's growing stable of triumphs, and an ideal showcase for their two most beloved creations.

Review published 10.06.2005.

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