SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY HOPS.
Here’s a few numbers for you: 2.8 tons of Plasticine in 42 colors were used for the characters and the miniature sets, of which there were 30; it took 44 pounds of glue every month to hold the sets together; the filmmakers got 3 seconds of footage every day and the film took five years to make. This is not something you just throw together. Making what is essentially an action comedy in clay takes blood, sweat and tears, but directors Nick Park and Steve Box could take comfort in the fact that the fans would be pleased. We were promised a movie about “Wallace & Gromit” without compromised quality and that’s what we were given.
We first met the duo in several short films (two of them Oscar-winning); Wallace, the cheese-loving inventor, and Gromit, his silent dog who likes to knit and always ends up rescuing Wallace from various crises, are loved by an entire world. This feature film sees them running their own business, Anti-Pesto, helping the neighbors get rid of rabbits. The bunnies keep feasting on every vegetable in sight and this is a big deal in a village where nothing more exciting happens than the annual giant vegetable competition. The way in which Wallace and Gromit take care of the rabbit problem is quite humane, something their latest client, Lady Tottington, appreciates (but not her bloodthirsty suitor, an arrogant hunter called Victor Quartermaine).
But when one of Wallace’s experiments goes horribly wrong, Anti-Pesto faces its biggest problem yet – not a werewolf, but a were-rabbit, that devours every garden in sight, jeopardizing the very future of the beloved vegetable competition in the process.
It’s an absolutely absurd story, taking the trappings of a classic werewolf tale to the quiet of a small, English community. There are plenty of nods to films like An American Werewolf in London and King Kong, but the filmmakers also gently make fun of the simple people who live in the village.
Perfectly paced film
Just like in their short features and Chicken Run (2000), director Nick Park and his collaborators show their love for big chases, slapstick and outrageous inventions, contraptions meant to make life easier for Wallace and his dog, but often the kind of creativity that puts them in trouble. The folks who came up with these resourceful characters strike me as somewhat similar to them; making movies in clay is a crazy idea, but the many years it takes give them plenty of time to get everything right. They know that the script is one of the most important ingredients, that it should be carefully structured… but also that it doesn’t need to be complicated.
The result is a perfectly paced film with jokes that are varied enough to please kids and grown-ups alike. It also has a stunning look to it, but there has been some cheating. It’s not all clay; the film reportedly contains 700 CGI shots to make certain scenes work in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
Perhaps the funniest thing in this film is Victor Quartermaine. There’s nothing remotely likeable about this pompous twit, but that fact is offset by the clumsy, funny mistakes he keeps making – and a seemingly serious-minded actor, Ralph Fiennes, gives him a surprisingly hilarious voice. From his first scene to the last (where he has completely lost it and appears with cotton candy glued to his head), Victor is a laugh riot and you realize that Fiennes might have a future in comedy after all. Still, I have to say I missed the evil little penguin from The Wrong Trousers (1993)…
Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit 2005-Britain-U.S. 82 min. Animated. Color. Produced by Claire Jennings, Peter Lord, Nick Park, David Sproxton, Carla Shelley. Directed by Nick Park, Steve Box. Screenplay: Nick Park, Steve Box, Bob Baker, Mark Burton. Voices of Peter Sallis (Wallace/Hutch), Ralph Fiennes (Victor Quartermaine), Helena Bonham Carter (Lady Campanula Tottington), Peter Kay, Nicholas Smith, Liz Smith.
Oscar: Best Animated Film. BAFTA: Best British Film.
Last word: “It was […] important to know which areas [DreamWorks] know a lot about, like the marketing and the music that will make it a big success in the cinema world. It was give and take really, with ‘Wallace & Gromit’ it was easier because I had already made three shorts and I could say ‘Wallace would not do that’. With those films we were trying to stay true to our own culture and sometimes the Americans wouldn’t understand the accent or a turn of phrase so sometimes we had to compromise a little, but we pretty much dug our heals in.” (Park, How Did They Do That?)