Friday, January 5, 2007

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit


Delightfully Zany, Hilarious Fun

I’m just going to say it now: “Nick Park is a genius”.

Having already garnered three Academy Awards for three claymation shorts (two featuring Wallace and Gromit and Creature Comforts), he has proven his talent is no fluke. In 2000, he ventured into features with Chicken Run, which he co-wrote and co-directed. With Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Park returns to his bread-and-butter characters, bringing them to the big screen in a big way.

Inventor Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and his loyal dog Gromit run a humane pest removal and capture service (dubbed ‘Anti-Pesto’) in their little town. Business is booming due to the annual Giant Vegetable Growing Contest, accompanied by an infestation of pesky rabbits. When Wallace tries to re-program the bunnies to stop eating veggies, something goes horribly awry.

Things are complicated by Wallace’s sudden feelings for contest chair Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) and her snobby would-be suitor Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes). What’s cheese-loving Wallace to do? Wait for Gromit to bail him out of course...

I have to admit, when I heard about W&G coming in a feature length film, I was skeptical. Could Park maintain the spell cast by his wacky, fun-loving shorts? The answer is a resounding “yes”! The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a bona fide good time, highlighted by a nutty script and kookily abnormal characters. It’s easily the best animated feature I’ve seen all year, and perhaps the best of anything I’ve seen all year.

The script (by Bob Baker, Steve Box, Mark Burton and Park) is a real treat, giving us a clever, funny plot (complete with a twist I didn’t see coming) and great pun-filled dialogue. I also liked the nods to some horror classics including Frankenstein, werewolf movies and King Kong.

Then there are the characterizations. Park’s creations look like a comic strip come to life, complete with toothy grins and bulging eyes (I also found Lady Tottington’s perpendicular hairdo a hoot). The voice talent is excellent, with Ralph Fiennes sounding nothing like himself and stealing every scene he’s in as the scenery-chewing Victor.

The best “performance” is probably from dog Gromit, who says nothing, but calmly adjusts to whatever is happening and takes action (which mostly involves saving Wallace from himself).

Did I mention this movie was funny? I can’t recall the last time I laughed this much, or had a stupid grin on my face for so long. There is plenty for adults to enjoy as well as the kiddies, and it’s a bit surprising that some of these jokes (think Austin Powers and a pair of cabbages) didn’t scare the MPAA away from a G rating. But, no matter, the joke’s on them. Don’t forget to watch the background, as comedy abounds there as well.

Park and co-director Steve Box are not just a good storytellers, but fine film makers as well. They know how to compose shots, and we get all sorts of style and technique in this film, rivaling many live action directors. The fact that they have to worry about precise animation and precise, energetic visuals (and pull it off) is nothing short of amazing.

This is a excellent film in all respects. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit creates a unique world of fun, goofy charm, and I didn’t want it to end. Hello Academy? Are you listening?

P.S. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is preceded by A Christmas Caper, a CGI short featuring the military-esque penguins from Madagascar. It’s okay (I’d give it two stars), but feels like a slick product aimed at the ADD crowd. W&G feels more like a film, not a marketing strategy. Also, the “crude” claymation of W&G is like a breath of fresh air compared to the plasticky computer animation we’ve seen so much of lately.

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