Film Reviews: Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Our claymation heroes are hot on the bunny trail in ‘Wallace & Gromit: The curse of the Were-Rabbit.’
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Voices by Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter, and Ralph Fiennes. Directed by Nick Park and Steve Box. Written by Steve Box, Nick Park, Mark Burton, and Bob Baker. Rated G.
How to Draw a Bunny

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit isn’t hip, but it definitely hops.


Not many filmmakers acquire a cult following before ever making a feature film. The great Nick Park managed this trick in the early 1990s with his claymation shorts. Creature Comforts was his first effort, in 1989, but it was his A Grand Day Out from the same year that introduced the world to the characters of Wallace and Gromit, a cheese-loving amateur inventor living in an English hamlet and his endlessly clever dog, who even though he never speaks is clearly smarter than his master. (How would he? He doesn’t have a mouth. Yet he’s remarkably expressive. As far as mouthless cartoon characters go, he has way more emotional range than Hello Kitty.) These characters undertook further exploits in the Oscar-winning The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995), but Park left them behind when he made his delightful 2000 feature film debut, Chicken Run.

Now, he returns to his roots with Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The timing is just right. After 11 months’ worth of animated films that were too hip for their own good (most of them put out by DreamWorks, which ironically is distributing this movie as well), the film’s contentedness with being uncool turns out to be an excellent advantage. The fact that it’s the year’s best animated movie doesn’t hurt, either.

This newest adventure finds Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and Gromit running a service of humanely removing rabbits from gardens. Their business is humming thanks to the town’s upcoming vegetable-growing contest, which is so competitive that people are guarding their greens with high-tech security measures. With tons of the penned-up rabbits on his hands, Wallace has the hare-brained idea of using his own newly created mind-control device to rid the critters of their appetite for vegetables. The result of his experiment is a gigantic rabbit-like creature roaming the streets and gobbling up his neighbors’ carrots, cabbages, and cauliflower. It’s up to Gromit to pull his master out of yet another scrape.

If you’ve never seen a Nick Park film before, the first thing to know is that, quite apart from what they say or do, his claymation figures are funny just to look at. The puppets in Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride are beautiful, but you could exchange them for live actors and the movie wouldn’t lose much. Park’s humor, on the other hand, is inextricable from the modeling of his characters, with their prominent teeth and their closely set eyes that cross easily when the characters get dizzy or knocked on the head. He’s good with people; the old vicar in this film (voiced by Nicholas Smith) is a particularly fine creation. Park’s animals, though, are spectacular creations. It isn’t just Gromit, who has an entrancing mix of human, canine, and claylike characteristics. The bulldog who acts as Gromit’s nemesis here is both scary and funny — its body is all angles where Gromit’s is all curves. The bug-eyed bunnies, for their part, inspire pure hysteria. When Wallace and Gromit deal with a rabbit infestation early on by sucking them up with a giant vacuum cleaner, it leaves the bunnies floating in a zero-gravity chamber with freaked-out expressions on their faces. If you can look at that without laughing, well, I don’t want to meet you in a dark alley.

Park fans will be glad to learn that the spirit behind this film is unchanged and that only minimal damage has been done in expanding a Wallace & Gromit story to feature length — the action-packed climax isn’t as well-conceived as the ones in either Chicken Run or The Wrong Trousers. Though there are a few name actors here (Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter do the voices for some rather uninteresting upper-class twits), their presence is not what the movie’s about. The picture’s cinematic references are to classics rather than contemporary stuff — when Gromit first encounters the were-rabbit, the foggy nighttime scene recalls one of the luxuriant horror films that Hammer Studios put out. (This is a more creative use of horror-cinema techniques than anything in Corpse Bride.) Park’s sensibility remains rooted in the comic books and science fiction of the 1960s, as well as the kitchen-sink realism of British movies from that same period. This unique combination of influences contributes heavily to the enormous charm of these movies. No matter how wild their adventures, these characters always return to their happy rural English home, with its plausibly drab décor.

As with all of Park’s films, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is brimming with well-placed sight gags and blessedly free of any message, and it’s self-contained, so it works equally well for longtime fans and newcomers. (It also has the funniest “No animals were harmed” disclaimer you’re likely to see.) The loyal and unexpectedly moving friendship between the cheerful, enterprising Wallace and the quizzical, moody Gromit gives an emotional undertone to their hilarious antics. Until now these two characters have been confined to the only place to see short films — video and DVD. Their presence in our multiplexes now is an occasion for joy.

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