Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit

| October 16, 2005

It’s pretty easy to make a movie these days. You buy yourself a camera, hire some amateurs or friends and work from a non-existent digital budget to produce, film and edit a picture. There are plenty of independent circuits and the abundance of sloppy films that fail to balance the important elements of film (the craft behind it all) seems to have pervaded Hollywood as well. There’s just an overwhelming amount of worthless film: emotionless, bland–often recycled from the previous generation–and unjustifiable.
But animation–particularly claymation–is no joke. The stop motion effect is literally frame by frame, like classic hand-drawn Disney films. (You remember: the ones that were good, before computer animation allowed the sloppiness of a rush job to pervade the market.) Unlike bad films (which can justify almost any poor choice in cinematography as an “effect” or “mood”), animated errors are glaring and obvious, and only the best craftsmen can make a piecemeal production look seamless. Maybe that’s why it took Nick Park five years to put Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit together.
Just like his previous effort, Chicken Run, and the three short W&G episodes that preceded that, this latest movie is a masterpiece of craft, verve and humor that operates on both the kiddy and adult level. This is accomplished thanks to a loose plot that, despite being driven inexorably forward, has plenty of time to meander on the scenery (to chew the proverbial cud, as it were). We’re being told a story, but as so many films forget, it’s only how much we enjoy getting there that matters.
That said, meet mild-mannered Wallace and his canine companion Gromit. Wallace invents things, and Gromit cleans up the inevitable mess. It’s a simple formula, one that starts with a clever introductory routine: after an alarm is triggered, W&G are mechanically propelled from their beds into their car, which automatically drives them to the scene of the crime. In this case, they’re humane rabbit-catchers, protecting the town’s prize-winning extra-large vegetables from harm. It’s a routine quickly altered: Wallace has grown a few sizes too large for his trousers (now a mallet “assists” him in squeezing through the trapdoor that delivers him from bed to the breakfast table) and his “vegetable” diet has led him to invent a brainwashing device.
He’s never tested it before, but then again–that’s what movies are for. Gromit, his eyes panicked and pleading (more expressive than a mime, but just as silent) can only watch as his master attempts to brainwash the bunnies (“Vegetables bad!”). Hilarity (I’ve always wanted to say this) ensues. The device malfunctions, creating the most horrific rabbit since Monty Python: seems the Brits have a real understanding of terror.
If the devil’s in the details, Nick Park and his team of animators have been working around the clock to summon him. Not only is each character meticulously rendered and seamless (in everything but their walking), but the backgrounds are picturesque. Even animated, they’re the kind of place you’d want to live. Furthermore, interior shots are crammed full of sight gags: plays on famous literary novels and other contemporary tchotchkes. Even the dialogue is rife with parody: the line “Run rabbit, run!” refers to John Irving, Forrest Gump, and the obvious.
This is most definitely not a sloppy movie. Of course, when you spend hours making lumps of clay into living creatures (a real hands-on process) you’re bound to get caught up in the little intimacies of life. This isn’t writing a bunch of soulless computer code: it’s falling in love with your characters shot by shot, an effect that is just as seamlessly carried over onto the audience as it is to W&G. This isn’t watching a movie so much as being lavished by beauty: huge healthy helpings of humorous beauty.
As with other Aardman films (Park’s animation studio), Curse of the Were-Rabbit has a great climax; one that puts together slap-dash gadgetry and seat-of-the-pants thrills (for a children’s film). But it doesn’t pop out of nowhere: it seems like a natural progression of cartoon logic (where consequences are absent)–the whole movie, after the introduction, is just one tremulous crescendo.
Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit might have been made by a tight-knit group of friends, but they’re far from amateur, and this was by no means a rushed and hackneyed job. The script doesn’t miss a beat, neither does the animation or the score: this is a film filled with real craft (both literal and figurative). It’s a loony tune, yes, but it’s what stagnant Hollywood needs to be. Needs to be full of emotion and excitement; needs to be original and fresh; needs to be this wholly (and indulgently) rewarding.

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