Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

With the Giant Vegetable Competition (an annual event that has taken place in the tiny Northern England town for over 500 years) only days away, Wallace and Gromit’s humane pest-control company, Anti-Pesto, is busy, busy, busy. But, with business being so good, they’re running out of space for all of the rabbits they catch, so Wallace decides to use his Mind-O-Matic to change the bunnies’ behavior. But things go terribly wrong and the veggie competition may well be ruined in “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”


Nick Park and Steve Box share directing duties in this first feature length entry into the remarkable “Wallace & Gromit” franchise that spawned two Oscar wins for best short animation with “The Wrong Trousers” (1993) and “A Close Shave” (1995). (On a side note, Park’s wonderful 1989 5-minute classic “Creature Comforts” was also a short animation Oscar winner.) I have been a huge fan of Nick Park’s creations and was all a-pucker in anticipation of the “W&G” full-length debut.

So, the only question I had before seeing "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" was: Can Wallace and Gromit sustain a feature length movie? Happily, the answer is a resounding YES.

This is the best animation of the year. It has charm, humor, good-natured bawdiness - "may contain nuts" is just one of many sexy gags - and so many laughs that I had tears in my eyes. The often-subtle use of film references (and, sometimes, not so subtle) such as "The Fly," "King Kong," "Frankenstein," “Harry Potter,” “Planet of the Apes” and more are a boon to the film buff and just damn funny for everyone.

W&G fans will have further fun with the cheese-loving inventor and his faithful, wise canine companion. The unitiated get a first-rate introduction to the lovable Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis) and are treated to one of film’s greatest silent comedians since Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin – Gromit. The canny canine says volumes with a roll of the eyes or a bemused expression and never is there the need for him to utter a sound. These guys rival Abbot and Costello as a comedy team.

“The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” also benefits from the outstanding vocal cast led by Helena Bonham-Carter (who also voiced the heroine in “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride”) as the Great Vegetable Competition’s matron and Wallace’s budding love interest, Lady Campanula Tottington. Bonham-Carter gives a likable, aristocratic, stiff-upper-lip voice to her “Totty.” Ralph Fiennes gives his character - Lady Tottington’s villainous, ambitious, rabbit-hunting suitor, Victor Quatermain – proper shrift as the hissable, moustache-twirling bad guy. Victor is the polar opposite to Wallace and their dramatic clash (with Gromit called upon, as usual, to help save the day) is an exciting and fitting climax to a wonderful story. The rest of the vocal cast fit the bill beautifully.

The animation is a combination of claymation, stop motion photography – with appropriate homage to the legendary Ray Harryhausen – and over 700 computer graphics. Park, Box and company mixes these anime techniques expertly and seamlessly. Of course, the dazzling production design by Phil Lewis artfully combines Wallace’s Rube Goldberg-esque inventions, retro 1940’s-looking town and the gardens so carefully tended by the townsfolk. The rest of the production team, with its hundreds of animators, do “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” justice in every way.

My only complaint is that it took Aardman Entertainment too long to bring their masterworks to the screen. Since I know the painstaking care Nick Park and all put into every film, I can forgive the five years to bring their wonderful work to fruition.

Fans of Wallace and Gromit – and they are many and varied – will have a ball with “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” My only real criticism is that we have to wait another five years for the next edition in the lives and times of our heroes. I give it an A-.

Wallace (regular Wallace voicer Peter Sallis, "Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?")) and his trusty dog Gromit have begun a new business, Anti-Pesto, an automated protection service from garden pests based on one of Wallace's Rube Goldberg-like mechanical designs. Anti-Pesto has become particularly prominent because it is four mere days away from Tottington's Giant Vegetable Festival.  But once again Wallace alarms Gromit by taking things too far, inventing a Mind Manipulation-Omatic in order to rid bunnies of their need for 'veg.'  Wallace tests it out one dark and stormy night while he's still attached to one end of it while Hutch, their latest bunny nab, receives his conditioning in "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit."

At about the same time claymation creator Nick Park won the 1989 Animated Short Oscar for "Creature Comforts," he introduced his cheese loving bachelor inventor Wallace and Wallace's loyal, silent dog and assistant Gromit (clearly the smarter of the two) in "A Grand Day Out." Four years later brought an even better adventure, "The Wrong Trousers," which was followed in 1995 with "A Close Shave."  It's been a long ten year wait to see if these half hour short subjects could be successfully extended into a feature length film, but Aardman Animations has done it again with a rousing good romp stuffed to the gills with visual gags and film references a' plenty.  Aardman is as homespun as Pixar is high tech, but both animation studios recognize the importance of a good story (screenplay by Bob Baker ("A Close Shave," "The Wrong Trousers"), Nick Park (all previous "Wallace & Gromits"), Park's codirector Steve Box and Mark Burton ("Madagascar")).

The puns begin during an opening credit sequence when a slow pan across family pictures show Wallace and Gromit over the years, including Gromit's graduation from Dogwarts University.  Across town, a garden gnome sensor sends an alarm and Wallace and Gromit are roused, clothed, deposited into their trade truck and on the way to save the celery. Armed with a large burlap sack, Gromit grabs the latest bunny while Mrs. Mulch (Liz Smith, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") sings their praises.  The next day Wallace is overwhelmed to be called by the local aristocracy, Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "The Corpse Bride"), to solve her rabbit problem. She's pleased as punch to see the humane Bunny Vac 6000 in action (and so are we!), but her suitor, Lord Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes, "The Constant Gardener"), prefers the macho hunt.  Once Wallace's latest experiment goes awry, letting a monstrous bunny loose upon the village carrots, it's Victor and his rifle versus Gromit's quick wits.

There's no need to change a formula that works and Parks follows his usual theme of Gromit saving Wallace from the results of his own dubious inventions.  It's all in the delightfully simple characters (Gromit's eye hollows may have always obviously been thumb indentations, but on the big screen, we can even see fingerprints in the clay) and the details.  We're given two visual payoffs for Gromit's attempts to curb Wallace's cheese (Stinking Bishop, anyone?) intake.  Wallace gets stuck in his own trapdoor. Cut to Gromit in the kitchen, a jar of 'middle age spread' in the foreground.  When Victor attempts to shoot a bunny on Lady T's lawn, the panicked rabbit sees a light at the end of a tunnel which turns out to be the exit dome at the end of the Bunny Vac 6000's vacuum hose.  The impressed Lady Tottingham invites Wallace into her rooftop conservatory greenhouse where she tells him that 'Victor's never shown any interest in my produce' as she fondles the two large melons in front of her (a later sexual innuendo is more original and far more hilarious).  Later, in the climatic chaos Lady T's held down by a pitchfork stabbed through her horizontal red afro only to reappear in the next scene with two bandaids affixed to her hair.

Film references abound, particularly classic horror, with the duality of the werewolf theme neatly dovetailing into "The Fly" and "Frankenstein," which spring from the mad inventor that is Wallace.  The Vegie Fair climax folds in King Kong, complete with Gromit aloft in a kiddie ride airplane, an angry mob armed with garden tools below.

Vocal talents are spot on with guest stars having a ball.  Bonham Carter, who stars in two stop motion animations within as many weeks, gives Lady T the right air of tweedy upper crust to the flighty baroness.  Ralph Fiennes goes all Dick Dastardly with a supercilious alto - who knew he could be so super silly?  The bunnies bleat with bubbly 'whees!,' a landscape of giddy sound effects.

The world of Wallace and Gromit is a wondrous one where creatures are cared for, evil is overcome and friends are loyal through thick and thin.  It's got the bright, colorful spirit of British pluck.

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