A Grand Day Out

Before I launch into my review, I wanted to mention that the agonizing over the possible retitling of Rosemary and Time continues, with the arrival of new candidates. These include:

  • Storygirl (Yes, we realize that LM Montgomery already wrote The Story Girl, but you can’t copyright titles, and we remove the “The” and combine the remaining two words into one. It is similar to Papergirl, but without the confusion over whether or not this is about Rosemary’s paper route.
  • The Unfinished Ones (Barry suggested that we should come up with a term for the unfinished portions of books — a term that the characters could refer to with fear. This was the best I could come up with, but Erin is thinking hard along these lines.

Wallace and Gromit Curse of the Wererabbit

Erin and I haven’t seen that many movies this year, but even with this small sample size, Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Wererabbit will be hard to beat as our personal favourite movie of 2005.

After Cameron (new post alert) caught a showing at the Toronto International Film Festival, he wrote to warn me that the movie was so funny, it could induce labour. Well, Erin, Cameron and I checked out the movie yesterday. It didn’t induce labour (thank goodness!), but it was still a masterpiece.

Wallace and Gromit are the creations of Nick Park, a claymation animator who zoomed to prominence in the early 1990s as his first cartoon short, Creature Comforts won an Oscar for Best Short Film. With the backing of Aardman Productions, he produced three short films featuring an eccentric inventor (Wallace) and his silent but smarter dog (Gromit). The first film, A Grand Day Out took Wallace and Gromit to the moon on an expedition for green cheese. Each movie since has tried to top itself. The Wrong Trousers was a Hitchcockian riff with jewel thieves, train chases and a robotic dog walker. Finally, in 1995, Aardman Productions released A Close Shave, featuring sheep rustlers, an automatic sheering/knitting machine, and a literal aerial dogfight.

The movies quickly built up a fan base, thanks to excellent comic timing, a broad range of jokes ranging from parodies of classic movies, to puns, to sight-gags and slapstick. It was all held together by the vocal talents of Peter Sallis as Wallace, as well as the masterful animation of Nick Park. I can’t emphasize this enough. The work that has gone into these movies is arduous, with facial animations broken down by syllable and all of the characters expressing themselves effectively. Gromit in particular is a triumph, able to convey so much with just a crook of an eyebrow. He can’t even open his mouth and he has no dialogue, but this lump of clay out-acts Keanu Reeves, and he is a Zen presence throughout the movie, skeptically resigned to the adventures Wallace’s wacky inventions are sure to bring.

To mainstream audiences, Nick Park and Aardman Productions are known more for their feature-length film Chicken Run, but to longtime fans, flying clay chickens and the vocal talents of Mel Gibson and Julia Sawalia were just an interlude. Wallace and Gromit deserved their own feature length release and now, after ten years of waiting and four years of production, including 110,000 individually-staged frames, Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Wererabbit opened in wide release this past Friday.

The movie quickly recaptures the antics of the previous three shorts. Wallace and Gromit, having previously run a window washing company (see A Close Shave), now operate a pest control business, protecting the gardens of Tottingham from an infestation of rabbits as the country fair and its vegetable competition approaches. Their activities catch the eye of Lady Tottingham (voiced by Helena Bonham-Carter), whose estate has loads of rabbits which need to be removed, and who is very interested in ensuring that the cute creatures are dealt with humanely (which they are, thanks to Wallace’s vacuum-powered rabbit-sucker). Their business also attracts the scorn of the evil Victor Quartermaine (voiced with aplomb by Ralph Fiennes), an unrepentant hunter who just wants to shoot the buggers, and who sees Wallace as a romantic rival for Lady Tottingham’s affections. Wallace’s attempts to ween the rabbits from their vegetable-eating ways (through the use of yet another invention) backfires (but of course) and with the country fair around the corner and the prize vegetables in the gardens at their peak, a terrible were-rabbit is unleashed.

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is loaded with jokes aimed at a variety of age groups, making this a family movie in the truest sense of the word. The theatre I was in was populated mostly by children under ten, who all appreciated the rampant slapstick, although some were actually frightened by the were-rabbit’s transformation. For older audience members, there are numerous references to classic monster movies, numerous shameless puns, and some double-entendres that will fly right over the heads of the children while hitting the parents between the eyes (“why are you laughing, daddy?” / “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”).

But Curse of the Were-Rabbit is about more than just the jokes. The writing is smart and the plot well-honed. There is a real mystery here that is carefully crafted, and which hangs together when all is revealed. The movie is alternately sweet and scary, and only the happy ending seems in any way forced (albeit in an easily forgivable way). Then there is the animation. The characters are deftly designed, brought to life by the tireless work of Nick Park and Aardman Productions as well as by the voice talents. Everybody is having fun here, although it is the character that has no dialogue which steals the show.

Gromit in particular is a masterpiece. Nick Park has become so adept at crafting this dog that this lump of clay is able to carry whole scenes without saying a word. I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you go, pay particular attention to the scene where coins become an issue. I’ll say no more than that, except to add that two characters produce one of the deepest belly-laughs in the film. There is no dialogue here. The funniest moment in the film is brought forward by animation and music alone.

In comparison to the other Wallace and Gromit shorts, Curse of the Were-Rabbit almost matches The Wrong Trousers in terms of laugh-out-loud humour and effective storytelling. If The Wrong Trousers comes out on top, it’s only because so much is packed into a much smaller frame. But Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a wonderful addition to the Wallace and Gromit canon and if it is the last of the series (entirely possible since Peter Sallis is 85 and these movies take four years to produce), then the series has been given a rousing send-off.

The film is a must-see. The writing is intelligent and loaded with laughs for all ages. The animation is masterful, and the vocal talents are brilliant. There may be better films out this year, but I can’t name them. Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit is worth any theatre ticket price, and it is worth seeing multiple times.

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