Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Well, it's one of those times when I have to eat my words. In my overview of this year's Academy Awards I commented that I could not see how Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit could be better than the other two animated films nominated for Best Animated Feature (The Corpse Bride and Howl's Moving Castle). I have to say that I was wrong. Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit is not only the best animated film of the year, but the funniest as well.

For those of you who don't know who Wallace and Gromit are, they are the lead characters in a series of clay animation film shorts (and as of last year a feature film) made in the United Kingdom. Wallace is a tinkerer and inventor, whose Rube Goldberg (or perhaps "Heath Robinson" would be the better term, since they are British) type devices never work as he wants them to. Gromit is Wallace's dog and the brains of the outfit. Although he never makes a sound, it is usually Gromit who must get them out of the trouble Wallace sometimes gets them into. The two made their debut in the animated short "A Grand Day Out" in 1989, which was nomimated for the Oscar for Best Short Film, Animated. They went onto star in two Oscar winning shorts, "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave." They also became a bit of a phenomenon in both Britain and abroad. In fact, they are credited with single handedly saving Wensleydale cheese (Wallace's favourite cheese in the world), which had been declining in sales until Wallace came along.

Curse of the Were-Rabbit is Wallace and Gromit at their best. This time out they are operating a humane pest control business (Anti-Pest-O) which deals with pests (namely, vegetable devouring rabbits) by capturing and incarcerating them (as opposed to killing them). Unfortunately, it is not long before Tottington's vegetables are being ravaged en masse by a monster rabbit, and it is up to Wallace and Gromit to stop him.

Curse of the Were-Rabbit remains loyal to the animated shorts. It has the same off-kilter humour, complete with sight gags, word play, and so on. The movie even manages a few homages/parodies to classic horror films, including The Wolfman, King Kong, and Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (AKA Braindead). Much, perhaps most, of the humour will go above the heads of children, although there is still enough there to keep them entertained. Like Pixar's films, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a film made for adults that children can enjoy.

The humour is greatly aided by vocal talents of the cast. After over ten years away from the character, the great Peter Sallis slides easily back into playing Wallace, endowing the absent minded inventor with the kind of empathy he had in the shorts. Helena Bonham Carter is also perfect as Lady Tottingham (Wallace's love interest!), while Ralph Fiennes does very well as the villainous hunter Victor Quartermaine (something tells me Nick Park has read his share of H. Rider Haggard in his lifetime...).

The animation is top notch. Indeed, with the budget of a feature film, Aardman Animations (the company behind Wallace and Gromit) were able to add a good deal more detail than one saw in the shorts. In fact, given that we are talking about stop motion animation here, many of the sequences will leave the viewer wondering "How did they do that?" The were-rabbit sequences are especially impressive. Curse of the Were-Rabbit is one of the most amazing achievements in clay animation ever put on film.

Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit is easily the best animated film of 2005. It is also the funniest movie of that year as well. I would recommend it to anyone who likes stop motion animation, comedies, or just plain good movies. It is simply marvelous.

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