Thursday 18 January 2007

Wallace & Gromit - The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005)

Thursday 18 January 2007
DIRECTOR: Nick Park & Steve Box
WRITERS: Bob Baker, Steve Box & Mark Burton (characters created by Nick Park
CAST: Peter Sallis (Wallace), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Victor Quatermaine), Helena Bonham-Carter (Lady Tottington), Peter Kay (PC Macintosh), Nicholas Smith (Rev Clement Hedges) & Liz Smith (Mrs Mulch)

When the town's vegetables comes under threat by a giant rabbit, it's up to crackpot inventor Wallace and his trusy dog Gromit to catch the beast before it ruins a Giant Vegetable Competition...

Animator Nick Park has already had huge success with Wallace and Gromit in their three short films; A Grand Day Out (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995). Indeed, Aardman Animations won two Oscars for their troubles, and a lucrative deal with DreamWorks that resulted in smash-hit Chicken Run.

10 years after Wallace and Gromit's last outing, and prompted by the collapse of Aaardman's The Tortoise & The Hare adaptation, the intrepid duo are back in their first feature-length adventure. The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit is a loving pastiche of the horror genre, particularly the 50s/60s Hammer Horrors, in a tale with clear nods to Frankenstein and The Wolf Man.

The main problem facing the movie is whether the material can be successfully stretched past 30-minutes. Were-Rabbit becomes slightly flaccid after forty minutes, but generally the pace is strong and the developments in the story keep things interesting.

In comparison to the shorts, Curse Of The Were-Rabbit is undoubtedly more complex and larger in scale, but fundamentally nothing has changed. The animation is more polished than 1995's A Close Shave, but the only notable advance in quality is with the larger sets, multiple supporting characters, bigger action sequences and a few instances of CGI (floating rabbits).

The voice cast are all perfect for their roles. Peter Sallis returns as Wallace, bringing his recognisable northern twang to the global masses. Gromit remains silent, animated brilliantly to convey such varied emotions with a raise of the brow or the shaking of his head. Ralph Fiennes is the biggest name lending their vocal talents, playing pompous clot Lord Quatermaine. Helena Bonham-Carter is excellent as Lady Tottington, an upperclass love-interest for Wallace with a serious overbite.

Supoorting the main players are comedian Peter Kay as PC Macintosh (har-har), comedy actress Liz Smith as Mrs Mulch and a fabulous turn from Nicholas Smith as the OTT Reverend Hedges.

Fans of Wallace and Gromit will find themselves in comfortable territory. The movie is exactly what you're expecting; a longer, bigger version of their earlier short films. The British sense of humour is retained, despite American input potentially excising UK colloquialisms from the script, so the character's hearts beat to their own rhythm.

That said, while Curse Of The Were-Rabbit sets itself apart from the earlier adventures with its broader premise and additional characters, there's nothing particularly new here (another mute dog for Gromit to battle is a case in point). The comedy again stems from an overflow of visual gags (margerine labelled "Middle Age Spread", etc), those superb facial reactions from Gromit, quick action sequences and amusing gadgets (the sequence where rabbits are sucked down their own holes is a hoot).

What Curse Of The Were-Rabbit lacks is a sense of the bizarre (a trip to a cheesy moon and mechanical trousers seems radical in comparison to its simple horror parody). It's also unfortunate that the movie lacks a villain as memorable as Feathers McGraw from The Wrong Trousers, while Wallace himself is absent for a large chunk of of the finale! However, these nitpicks won't spoil your enjoyment. This remains an entertaining adventure/mystery with gags for adults to chuckle over while kids enjoy the colourful characters and breathless action.

Aardman Animations have proved the popularity of stop-motion has yet to wilt under the glare of computer animation, unlike 2-D animation. I think the reason is obvious: traditional 2-D animation is like watching drawings coming to life, computer-animations are like watching 3-D graphics tell you a story, but plasticine/model animation is like watching toys come to life... and is there anybody who hasn't dreamed of that happening? With Aardman movies, that dream becomes reality.

Wallace & Gromit: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit is a faithful and enjoyable continuation of Nick Park's wonderful creations. While it's essentially just another 30 minute short expanded into a 120 minute feature (with more buildings and characters thanks to the larger budget), the charm and humour hasn't been compromised by its American backers.

Cracking stuff.