After the recent glut of CGI animated films, it’s rather refreshing that none of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature are computer generated. Two of them, in fact, use the relatively ancient technology of stop motion while the third is a traditional animated film from Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki. I don’t know if there’s any cosmic significance to the fact that both of the stop motion nominees feature the vocal talents of Helena Bonham Carter, but let’s pretend that there is.
Wallace and Gromit‘s first feature length film is probably the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar, which would make it the animated duo’s third Oscar, having previously taken two for Best Animated Short. Director Nick Park‘s uniquely British and whimsical sense of humor filled the increased length easily.
For those unfamiliar with these two characters, Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis) is a inventive middle-aged man with an incurable appetite for cheese and a remarkable lack of common sense. He’d probably never survive if it wasn’t for his sensible dog, Gromit. Park invests this wordless canine with such a range of facial expression that the little hunk of Plasticine clay has been deservedly compared to some of the great comedians of the silent era.
The pair live in Wallace’s house, which is run through with an array of Robe Goldberg-esque inventions that do everything for Wallace but the things you can’t show in a G-rated movie. Wallace’s latest venture is a humane pest control service called Anti-Pesto. They’re particularly busy leading up to Lady Tottington’s (voice of Helena Bonham Carter) 517th Giant Vegetable competition. When Wallace has to clear out a particularly large rabbit infestation on Lady Tottington’s estate, he gets the (not very) bright idea to use his latest invention, a brain-control helmet, to cure the rabbits of their vegetable-eating ways.1 This plan backfires when it creates a ravenous “were rabbit” which proceeds to plunder the villagers’ gardens and endangers the giant vegetable contest. It falls upon Anti-Pesto to track the creature down.
Wallace’s life is further complicated by Lady Tottington’s boorish snob of a fiancé, Lord Victor Quartermain (voice of Ralph Fiennes), whose insanely jealous after she takes a fancy to Wallace. Coveting her family fortune, he’s not about to lose out to a common exterminator.
While certainly intended for all ages, I think adults, more than kids, will get the most out of the film’s wry, referential humor. One example, as Gromit helps Wallace squeeze through the tight trap door between his bedroom and the breakfast table, we can see a jar of something called “Middle Age Spread.” The film is wall-to-wall with puns and cultural references to everything from Harry Potter to the original King Kong.
Now that Wallace and Gromit have hit the cinematic big time, as it were, it’s refreshing to see that their creators haven’t lost touch with the qualities that have endeared them to audiences since their first short appeared in 1989. The Curse of the Were Rabbit is a delightful film that you may even want to let your kids watch from time to time.
- Wouldn’t that create carnivorous rabbits? [↩]