Directed by: Steve Box, Nick Park
Starring: Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Nicholas Smith
If I'm a little less enthusiastic about Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit than many of my fellow reviewers, chalk it up to my having difficulty with the grotesqueness of the human characters (I'm OK with Gromit the dog and the various and sundry rabbits) in this claymation work from Nick Park and Steve Box -- to the point of finding them a bit creepy. It's not that they aren't brilliantly achieved, and it's not that their antics aren't amusing, it's just that they're ... well, grotesque.
The film itself, on the other hand, is anything but. Calling Wallace & Gromit cute is probably the kiss of death for a lot of people, but cute is definitely the first thing that comes to mind -- at least after inventive. Detailing the adventures of the none-too-bright inventor Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his much smarter dog companion, Gromit, as they endeavor to humanely prevent a plague of rabbits from destroying their village's annual vegetable-growing competition mayn't sound terribly enticing, and as a plot -- even with complications -- it isn't. In fact, it's brilliantly simple in that it can easily be followed by even the youngest child in the audience.
Moreover, it affords the filmmakers the room to playfully insert all manner of outrageous gags along the way, sometimes as a mere background detail, to keep the proceedings interesting for older members of the audience. As a result, directors Nick Park and Steve Box have ended up with a kids' flick that works on a quite different level for adult viewers.
Granted, this is nothing new in the realm of animation. You can date it back to the Fleischer brothers with Betty Boop and to a lesser degree, Popeye -- not to mention Rocky and Bullwinkle and in the present day with Shrek, etc. But there's a freshness this round that enlivens the always-welcome approach -- and it stems in no small measure from the film's almost aggressively British tone. Oh, there are more international touches -- like the inclusion of a reverend who bears more than a passing resemblance to Ernest Thesiger in James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein (but then Thesiger and Whale were British, too). However, the thrust of the gags often has an Anglophilic base.
There are gags that deliberately evoke the old Hammer horror pictures -- as when the aforementioned reverend uses cucumbers as a makeshift cross to ward off the titular were-rabbit. The very title of the film is, of course, a bit of silliness taken from Hammer's Curse of the Werewolf. The concept of an entire village being consumed with passion over who can grow the biggest vegetable marrow (it's a lot like a zucchini) is also very British, as is much of the wordplay in the film and the display of various cheeses with one labeled "Hard Cheese" (a Brit phrase meaning "tough luck").
The beauty is that these things only enrich the film. No single gag rises or falls based purely on the viewer's storehouse of esoteric knowledge -- something that's often forgotten in films of this type that are trying to be hip (see Madagascar).
The plotline itself is pretty obvious as to who is turning into the dreaded were-rabbit -- and the resolution of the problem is a little sketchy -- but it works well enough to get the movie from set-piece to set-piece. Perhaps the film's biggest plus, aside from its utter humanity, lies in its straight-faced acceptance of every absurdity even as it creates them, and offers one character, PC Mackintosh (Peter Kay, 24 Hour Party People), who actually sees the absurdities for what they are.
All in all, Wallace & Gromit is just a lot of very well-crafted fun that's so full of invention that multiple viewings will likely reveal fresh delights. Rated G.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke