Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit first published by EyeforFilm, 13 Oct 2005
Anyone who has caught Aardman Studio’s claymation duo Wallace & Gromit in their Oscar-courting short films A Grand Day Out (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995) will hardly need to be convinced of animator Nick Park’s power to work comic miracles from the earthiest of materials. The brilliant prison-break parody Chicken Run (2000) dispelled all doubts about Park’s ability to sustain such imaginative exuberance for the duration of a feature. And now at last Wallace & Gromit have their own feature length outing with The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, one of the funniest and most entertaining films seen all year.
In a small village in Little England, the time of year is coming once again for the Giant Vegetable Competition, hosted by Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) and the only thing standing between the villagers’ oversized produce and swarms of cute, hungry bunnies is the humane vermin-control team Anti-Pesto, comprising cheese-addicted inventor Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his decidedly more competent pet dog Gromit.
Attempting to rehabilitate the captured rabbits through brainwashing, Wallace attaches himself to them via an experimental lunar-powered machine called the Mind-o-Matic – and, before you can say The Fly, things have gone terribly wrong and a gigantic big-eared monster begins devoring everyone’s vegetables by the light of the full moon. Lady Tottington hires Anti-Pesto to apprehend the beast, but her trigger-happy suitor Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes) and his vicious bulldog Philip have other ideas.
In the relationship between dog and owner, often the former has the tighter grip on the leash, and so it is with the long-suffering Gromit, always cleaning up the mess left behind by his quixotic master. Wallace may have trouble keeping his human form whenever there is a full moon, but Gromit will always be the one who conceals a recognisable humanity beneath his canine features, making up for his inability to speak with a range of beautifully animated facial expressions.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit falls into the tradition of Christmas pantomime at its finest. It has larger-than-life stereotypes, genre parodies (especially, but not exclusively, of horror), sanity-stretching puns, delicate innuendo (above all when it comes to the “inner sanctum” of Lady Tottington’s “secret garden”) and outrageously surreal lines (“Their tiny bunny brains are being saturated in my veg-free mind waves”), all delivered at a breakneck pace and without ever forgetting to remain suitable for, and appealing to, the younger members of the audience, as well as their parents.
Most of all, though, The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit has good old-fashioned charm. If the choice of cumbersome hand-manipulated claymation smacks of a certain nostalgic quaintness in an age when, Harvie Krumpet and Corpse Bride aside, computer-generated imagery rules the roost, then Park’s characters seem frozen in a world of hand-knitted sweaters, parish fairs and gardening obsessives. Even Wallace’s patented “autostart” car, representing the latest in technology, still features a crank at the front that is wound by a mechanical hand. It is precisely this defiant sense of outmodedness that, ironically, gives the film and its characters such an edge over anything Disney can offer. Instead of vainly pursuing today’s latest trends, only to see them turn into tomorrow’s embarrassments, Park and his long-time collaborator Steve Box fall back on the values of the past, preferring substance and craft to the fleetingly voguish. It is the formula for a classic – an anti-hunting, pro-vegetarian, bunny-loving, laugh-a-minute classic at that.
Pure joy from start to finish, for children and adults alike.
strap: Nick Park & Steve Box’s charmingly hare-brained feature-length claymation brings corny old horror to antiquated Little England