Hopped-up humor in Wallace & Gromit: "Were-Rabbit"
Seattle Times movie critic
The fall of 2005 may well go down in movie history as a happy oddity, in which not one but two terrific stop-motion-animation feature films graced theaters, both featuring dogs, long-faced regular-guy heroes and voice work by Helena Bonham Carter. (Is she trying to carve out a new niche?) "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," already in theaters, is a delirious Goth nightmare; "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," opening today, takes place in a world closer to our own but is no less delightful.
Wallace and Gromit have been around for 16 years now, since they first appeared in an Aardman Animations short film called "A Grand Day Out," nominated in 1990 for an Academy Award. Wallace, voiced by Peter Sallis, is a suburban Brit with a pear-shaped head (when he smiles, his mouth pushes out sideways, wider than his ears); Gromit is his faithful, industrious and ever-silent pooch. The two live together in a house filled with the labor-saving inventions they're always creating, and with the loving detail that the Aardman crew provides (including, in the kitchen larder, a jar of something called Middle-Age Spread).
In their first feature-length film, directed by their creator Nick Park with Steve Box, Wallace and Gromit must face a formidable foe: the Were-Rabbit, a mysterious veg-loving creature who's been having nighttime feasts on neighborhood gardens. As the 517th annual Giant Vegetable Competition is fast approaching, and headlines like "Night of vegetable carnage" dominate the newspapers, the neighbors turn to Wallace and Gromit and their pest-control company, Anti-Pesto, to nab the critter.
"Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," with the voices of Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Peter Kay, Nicholas Smith, Liz Smith. Directed by Nick Park and Steve Box, from a screenplay by Box, Park, Bob Baker and Mark Burton. 85 minutes. Rated G. Several theaters.
This involves some nifty inventions — such as a vacuumlike device that sucks happy bunnies through a tube, alive and well — and some unexpectedly dire turns of events, including a scene in which a vicar is forced to defend himself with a zucchini. (Now, there's a phrase I never thought I'd write.) The humor is low-key but hilarious; you may well find yourself giggling hysterically at the sight of dozens of angelic bunnies cheerfully waving goodbye or springing up from the ground like pea shooters, or a line like, "There may be a large rabbit dropping."
And there's a hint of romance, too, as Wallace finds himself in close proximity with the lovely, pretzel-haired gardener Lady Tottington (Bonham Carter, poshly swallowing all her end consonants). The two have a scene that's as close to racy as these movies get: Lady Tottington, bemoaning her sometime beau Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), notes that "He's never shown any interest in my produce," while suggestively holding a pair of melons. (The constant gardener, indeed.)
All this is done in charmingly low-tech clay animation; you can see the squishiness of the plasticine used to model the characters, particularly in their faces and ever-moving lips. And the very Britishness of it all — right down to Wallace's string vests and the dodgy-looking teeth on most of the characters — survives intact, despite the American big-studio funding. This movie is a treat; take the kids and have a grand day out.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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