Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/30/05 15:03:07

"I love these guys."
5 stars (Awesome)

How good is the Wallace & Gromit movie? It's so good that Ralph Fiennes is funny for perhaps the first time in his life. It's so good that what is basically the same joke is still funny the third time it is used. It is, in short, just as good as you would expect a Wallace & Gromit movie to be.

For those not familiar with the pair, Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis) is a cheese-loving inventor and Gromit is his dog. Gromit is, as animated canines are wont to be, the brains of the operation, though he doesn't speak. Their current project is a humane pest control service, helping their neighbors rid themselves of rabbit infestations in the weeks leading up to the village's annual giant vegetable competition. Trouble is, the bunnies are eating them out of house and home, so Wallace tries a new invention to try and curb their veg-destroying urges. Of course, these things never work right on the first try...

Like the short films that preceded it (and production company Aardman's previous feature, Chicken Run), Curse of the Were-Rabbit is realized via stop-motion animation of idiosyncratic plasticine models. The character design is almost grotesque at first blush, featuring beady, lidless eyes, too-large mouths, hands held in peculiar positions. Wallace's head is strangely flat; Lady Campanula Tottington (voice of Helena Bonham Carter) looks more than a little freaky. And yet, when in motion, the impression one gets is not of a horror show. It's whimsical and bizarre, but fun. And some of the characters are downright cute - Gromit, of course, and the bunnies. And even the dog owned by scheming Victor Quartermaine (voice of Fiennes) has his moments, despite being all teeth.

The film takes place in a quirky English village, the sort of place where being Lady of the Manor still counts for something. It's the sort of place where a competition to grow the largest vegetables could be the highlight of the year. It's full of little in-jokes, from the name of the barber shop to the books on Wallace's shelf. Most of these jokes are quick and clever, not ham-fisted pop culture references which will be out of date by the time the movie comes out on video. It's a nicely understated world; compare it to a lot of recent animated movies - especially those released by DreamWorks - where the power of animation is harnessed to create fairy-tale/underwater/robot/etc. versions of New York City.

The voice-acting is understated as well, and not just because the canine characters communicate entirely through pantomime. Fiennes and Carter don't have extraordinarily distinct voices, although Fiennes is goofier than I can ever remember him being. Wallace is given voice by eighty-year-old Peter Sallis, and while Wallace probably never was meant to come across as grandfatherly in terms of experience or wisdom, he is imbued with a playful quality, never raising his voice even when he's doing mad scientist stuff.

The look of the film is almost quaint - the vehicles and rides at the fair are of vintage design, and the characters themselves look hand-made. Sometimes it even looks like fingerprints appear on the surface. The apparently primitive techniques hide fantastic craftsmanship. Even the smallest motions are smooth as silk, and there are plenty of little details to catch. It's exacting work to animate, and what's even more amazing is how well the extensive digital work is integrated. Look at the bunnies floating after Wallace's vacuum device sucks them out of the ground, or an aerial chase in the third act - is that digital wire removal, compositing, or CGI creations? It's impossible to tell, and it's irrelevant: The scenes are exciting and funny, and they don't force the audience to try and reconcile two different looks competing on the same screen.

What's most delightful about this movie is how it never tries to overpower the audience, even as it delivers a steady stream of smiles. Nick Park's characters have always been delightful fun for audiences of all ages at the 20 to 30 minute range, and here they're easily up to the challenge of carrying a movie three or four times that length.

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