Review by Jean Lynch
It’s been five years since the claymation creations of Aardman Productions last graced the big screen. Back in 2000, Messrs Lord and Park introduced us to a whole new set of characters in the brilliant Chicken Run , otherwise known as ‘The Great Egg-scape’, with a plot that cunningly resembled the Steve McQueen movie and gave us Mel Gibson as a plasticine cockerel. This time though – ah, we’re on familiar ground here; Wallace and Gromit are back and bigger than ever.
Directors Nick Park and Steve Box both admit to being slightly nervous as to how the transition from short half-hour format to full-length feature would translate, and rightly waited until they had a story which would validate their trepidation.
The selling point of Aardman, and particularly Wallace and Gromit, is that they embrace two distinctly British traits – salt-of-the-earth Northernness, and eccentricity. Wallace, defined by both Peter Sallis’ accent and his associations with that other exponent of gentle British quirkiness Last of the Summer Wine, along with good hearty English breakfasts, slippers and tank tops; and Gromit, the long-suffering silent hound whose expressions speak volumes and, as Wallace’s foil, the perfect straight man in the partnership. Together they encapsulate both the slapstick of the silent era and the long-held tradition of comedy duos, belonging to that strange, exclusive form of relationship of almost an old married couple in much the same way Laurel & Hardy thought more of each other than their wives, or Morecombe and Wise argued and then innocently shared a bed.
With Curse of the Were-Rabbit, however, they firmly take up the mantle of that ever-so-slightly brand of risque humour that made the Carry On films a staple of the British film industry. The title is long and dare we say, tongue-in-cheek, and shouts out that they have fully embraced the legacy of absurd, quirky British humour. The animation is such that the characters are more in the vein of cartoon rather than cute Disney, appealing to youngsters but cool enough for them to admit to liking them, and they look like something out of the ‘Beano’ or ‘Dandy’ so mums and dads can relate to them too. Wallace and Gromit are comfortable but never twee.
The plot entails Wallace, the inventor, and Gromit (who many see as being the real brains of the outfit) becoming super bunny-busters. As ‘Anti-Pesto‘, they’re called upon at anytime to set forth and humanely deal with the bob-tailed blighters who are decimating the prized carrots and marrows of the good townspeople, all of whom are desperately trying to protect their giant vegetables from the jaws of the naughty bunnies in the hopes of winning the forthcoming Giant Vegetable Competition.
Anti-Pesto are local heroes but their rabbit snatching prowess is really put to the test when the hostess of the vegetable competition, Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham-Carter), calls on them to eliminate the hundreds of the pesky critters who are currently digging up enough soil to burrow to Australia through her lawn. At last, Wallace and Gromit can try out their new wacky invention in mass bunny control. It proves a resounding success, much to the chagrin of Lady T’s would-be suitor, the gun-toting Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes).
With Lady – ‘call me Totty’ – Tottington batting her eyelashes at him, and Victor irrate with jealousy, you’d think Wallace had enough on his plate. However, back home, down in the cellar where the errant captured bunnies are kept, Wallace just has to attempt to change their eating habits so that they don’t crave carrots and the like anymore and could, his reasoning goes, be released. And that’s when it all starts to go wrong. Very soon, all the pest alarms in the neighbourhood are going haywire as every fence, gate and greenhouse door has a giant bunny-shaped hole and a distinct lack of veg in the plots. Can Wallace and Gromit save the day? Who has been eating all their greens? And why are there huge rabbit prints leading back to their own front door?
It’s a great, implausible tale (or should that be ‘tail’?) but it’s the characters who count. Who would have thought you would care about, and buy into, the life of a piece of plasticine? It is clear that the actors voicing the models take great pleasure in doing so. Peter Sallis as Wallace is now almost a British institution in his own right, but it’s lovely to hear Helena Bonham-Carter making full use of her plummy tones and sending up her own image. The real delight, however, is Ralph Fiennes. Hardly known as a comedy actor, he takes on the role of Victor with such gleeful gusto that one should not be surprised to see him appearing as Baron Hardup in your local panto. Big name comedy directors please take note.
There are some nice turns too from old favourites such as Nicholas Smith and Liz Smith (under 35′s, please ask your parents) but also from the national-treasure-in-the-making Peter Kay, as the bumbling policeman.
However, what makes this a truly great movie rather than just a good movie is the attention to detail, and the little pinpricks of sharp humour that punch their way through the fabric of the film. For instance, northern Wallace doesn’t read ‘Hello’ magazine, he reads ‘ay up’; when (don’t ask how) he is devoid of clothes, he covers his embarrassment by wearing a giant food carton, emblazoned with the warning: ‘may contain nuts’. And switching on the radio in the car, what wafts out from the airwaves? Only Art Garfunkel’s ‘Bright Eyes’.
In Short, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is nostalgic and modern; comfortable but hip; innocent yet knowing. And very, very funny. It’s a little latterday celebration of mythical Britishness.