A film review by Craig J. Koban
WALLACE AND GROMIT: THE CURSE OF
2005, PG, 85 mins.
With the voices of:
Wallace: Peter Sallis / Lord Victor Quartermaine: Ralph Fiennes
/ Lady Tottington: Helena Bonham Carter / PC Mackintosh: Peter Kay
/ Mrs. Mulch: Liz Smith / Rev. Clement Hedges: Nicholas Smith
I would question and openly criticize anyone that does not smile at least once during the entire running time of WALLACE AND GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE RABBIT. I sure found it hard not to crack one. After a grueling five years of work that was done by a crew of 250 animators and technicians who were only capable - on average - to get a mere three seconds of useable footage everyday, this newest Claymation feature has finally been bestowed upon the world.
We seem to be in a mini-Golden Age of stop motion artistry at the local cinemas these days. TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE opened a few weeks back and was a genuinely entertaining flick. Despite my fondness and appreciation for that work, it pales in comparison to Nick Park’s and Steve Box’s newest British film featuring two of the most beloved animated characters to emerge in the last 15 years. This film sure was bestowed on the viewing world – it is a brilliant and wonderful celebration of all things joyous, whimsical, and hearty about the cinema. In our darkened and nihilistic age of anti-heroes and violent, crime noirs that seem a dime a dozen today, WALLACE AND GROMIT represents a film that is boundless in terms of its optimism and carefree nature, not to mention that it’s boisterously creative, incredibly inventive, and intelligent with its material.
Five years, you say, to make a feature length animated film made up of clay figures?
Well, of course – it takes an enormous amount of effort, patience, perseverance, and skill to make a clay feature, and at least more time (in my humble opinion) than it would take in any other animated genre, whether it be 2D hand drawn or CG rendered. Now, don’t get me wrong, WALLACE AND GROMIT does make use of the latest advances in computer wizardry (contrary to popular belief, there is a heavy preponderance of CG used in this film – approximately 700 shots contain some computer tinkering). Yet, that statistic should not dissuade you from looking at the real meat n’ potatoes of this film, which is the gloriously realized characters captured in laborious clay stop motion animation. And, to the filmmakers’ credit, the CGI used in the film does not take away from the odd beauty of the clay set pieces – they instead augment and compliment visuals and provide sights that would have been next-to-impossible to create with rudimentary clay puppets.
Nevertheless, WALLACE AND GROMIT, much like I stated in my CORPSE BRIDE review, celebrates the art form of Claymation and takes it to a high level of prestige. I have spent much of my time commenting on how I prefer the overall look of Claymation features to CGI features. Okay, there is no denying the technical brilliance and luster of a computer animated film, which sort of takes meticulous perfection to whole other levels. Yet, it is the somewhat archaic, elementary, and awkward motions created by the clay figures that have a sort of ethereal and surreal allure to me.
It is their imperfections that makes them stand out. WALLACE AND GROMIT still looks astounding in different manners that does not invite criticism for its creators using tricks that are as old as the cinema itself. The film is not lush, pristine, or faultless like the visuals in, say, THE POLAR EXPRESS, but I still nonetheless stare up at the screen in a state of childlike awe all the way through WALLACE AND GROMIT. The film, regardless of its lack of a modern hi-tech artifice, is limitless in scope, aesthetic grandeur, and eye-popping wonderment.
For this achievement full credit must go to a couple of Brits - Nick Park and Steve Box. The characters of Wallace and Gromit made appearances in only three previous short films between 1989 and 1995, the first of which – WALLCE AND GROMIT: A GRAND DAY OUT (1989) – was done nearly completely by Park himself. That, in itself, seems miraculous if one considers what a Herculean effort it must have been (that short, which last only 22 minutes, took him over 6 years to make). However, with a much larger crew available to him, WALLACE AND GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT now can eclipse itself away from its short-subject roots. Yes, the characters and overall look of their world is the same – made up of tons of Plastecine and models held together with glue (approximately 44 pounds of it were used everyday to keep the sets in place), but the film opens up the universe on a whole new grander and eccentric level. To see the wondrous sights of this film on a big screen is a sure delight.
So…for those lay film going folk out there…Wallace and Gromit are a team made up of a man and his dog, the latter being one of the most resourceful canine companions ever. Wallace himself is an inventor of all things curious, if not a bit puzzling. I especially love the maddening logic behind his machines that poke him up from his bed everyday, literally wakes him out of his slumber, shoots him down an intricate series of tubes and tunnels, until he is dropped off right at the morning table where yet another machine puts on all of his clothes. Smashing? Undoubtedly. Insane in construction? For sure. Yet, we don’t really question the reasoning of his inane contraptions – we sit back and enjoy them for their inexhaustible playfulness, cheekiness, and sense of enjoyment. These contraptions, of course, are all shown in a virtuoso animated sequence at the beginning of the film.
Gromit is, as I have said, Wallace’s loyal dog. In fact, it’s kind of extraordinary how loyal he really is, considering all of the messes that he oftentimes has top clean up in Wallace’s wake. He is a peculiar animal. Sometimes he can walk upright and, for example, make coffee, read the newspaper, or even drive a car. Other times, he hops around on all four legs. Gromit does not say much, actually, he says nothing for the film’s running length – he is the Silent Bob to Wallace’s Jay. But, make no mistake, his role is crucial to this animated film’s sense of timing and droll, British comedy. The laughs often come in his responses to the madness around him and in the way he pantomimes reactions. In the whole world that is kooky and bizarre around him, Gromit seems – in retrospect – the most keen, smart, and level headed persona of the film.
In the film Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis) is shown living in a small village in rural England with Gromit. When the film opens these two have formed an animal friendly removal service amusingly called “Anti-Pesto.” When it appears that a huge outbreak of rabbits are thieving on the innocent vegetable gardens of the town, Wallace and Gromit come to the rescue, complete with a gigantic vacuum to save the residents and their crops. It’s not an easy job to take care of everyone’s carrots, squashes and melons, but someone’s got to do it. Yet, rest assured, their methods are humane enough to keep the people at PETA happy. Their Bunny-Vac sucks the rabbits out of their holes and into a giant holding tube so that they can be later housed at their own comfortable cages back at Anti-Pesto. No cute bunny seems to have been harmed making this film.
However, trouble is afoot. Lady Tottington’s (Helena Bonham Carter, who also lent her voice to CORPSE BRIDE) 517th Annual Vegetable Contest seems to be threatened. Now, everyone feels comfortable in how well Wallace and Gromit have taken care of things, but soon a new creature makes his appearance and has an appetite so large that everyone’s entries into the contest could be jeopardized. When it soon becomes clear that the problem is, in fact, a were-rabbit, no one can seem to find a solution.
Wallace and Gromit, of course, want to take care of it in a benevolent manner, but that will not do for a potential-Tottington suitor Victor Quartermaine (voiced by the incredibly hilarious Ralph Fiennes) who would rather exterminate it in the only way possible- with a 24K bullet. The other people of the town decide to arm themselves with pitchforks and start a mob. This sure seems like a mess, and it may have something to do with Wallace’s latest invention – the Mind-o-Matic – which he designed to “harmlessly” alter the minds of little bunnies so that they will never crave vegetables again. I think it’s safe to say that his experiment goes south real quick and Gromit will come flying to the rescue…literally.
WALLACE AND GROMIT made me tingle with giddy excitement, admiration, and enthusiasm all the way through it. There are far too many set pieces alone that deserve specific mention. The opening sequence, which introduces us to the characters, is a marvel, not to mention the moment involving the Mind-o-Matic and the Bunny-Vac, which are delightful in their playfulness and flightiness. I also loved the final sequence that involves Gromit engaging in a “dogfight” (hee-hee) with the dastardly and vicious dog that is owned by Quartermaine. These moments alone should make even the harshest of skeptic believe in the audacity and majesty of clay animation. This sequence, along with others in the film, are as polished, spunky, and exciting as anything out of a CG feature and they are splendidly easy on the eyes.
The look of the film also seems to have been carefully choreographed and set up ahead of time. Park and Box get a lot out of their careful use of both dark shadows and desolate photography as well as colorful and vibrant visuals. I also loved the way they did not hide the defects of their animation. Like the original KING KONG from 1933, which used similar techniques, WALLACE AND GROMIT shows all of those little finger prints and markings that were probably the remnants of the animator’s own fingers in-between frames manipulating the puppets. This, however, gives this kind of animation its nifty flavour.
WALLACE AND GROMIT is also insidiously funny and droll, oftentimes in slapstick and farcical ways and other times in sharp, satirical ways. The humour in this film is not of the nuanced Americanized variety that is prevalent in most animated films our side of the world. This, as stated, is a British film and it places more emphasis on comedy that involves wit, intelligence, situations, and a sort of humanistic silliness. The film has an ostentatious energy and vitality in its laughs, and it also contains a lot of dry, Monty Python-esque moments of hilarity that are derived from double entendre sight gags. The film is cute and cuddly enough for young children, but only older audience members will get the film’s somewhat subversive edge.
2001’s CHICKEN RUN, another Nick Park entry into Claymation territory, is one of my favourite animated films of the current decade and one that staggered me with its ceaseless imagination and intuitive resourcefulness and originality. That film was, on top of that, ridiculously nutty and eagerly comical. Park has always mentioned that he would return to his most treasured creation, and his WALLACE AND GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT is his loving tribute to a world that is bound by obsessive daftness and an uncompromised sense of hilarious absurdity. This film is as brainy as it is humorous and as ingenious and inspired with its images as it is with its spirit and tone. Not too many films in 2005 made me smile and chuckle all the way through them. WALLACE AND GROMIT is one of the more reliably entertaining and enchanting films I’ve seen all year.
To paraphrase Wallace, it was “a smashin’ good ol’ time.”