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What's the big deal?
Wallace & Gromit: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit is an animated family comedy film released in 2005 and was produced by DreamWorks and Aardman Animations. The film sees famous Aardman creations Wallace and Gromit on the big screen for the first time, currently working as pest controllers in the north of England. Their operation to help protect a prestigious vegetable competition is jeopardised by a mysterious supernatural force as well as a local hunting enthusiast with an irrational hatred of the pair. The film features the vocal talents of Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Kay, Liz Smith and Nicholas Smith and was co-directed by series creator Nick Park and Steve Box. The film is produced via stop-motion animation and utilises Aardman's trademark style seen previously in their first movie Chicken Run. The film was universally acclaimed by critics when it was released and would go on to earn more than $192 million (the second highest amount ever for a stop-motion picture) as well as the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, beating Howl's Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. However, the film failed to match DreamWorks' box office expectations and the two companies would scrap their partnership just two years later. In January 2022, it was confirmed that a sequel was in development.
What's it about?
In the north of England, eccentric inventor Wallace and his ever-faithful canine companion Gromit operate a successful pest control business called Anti-Pesto. The duo ensure that the rabbits plaguing the town's vegetable growers are treated humanely rather than being killed. They are, in fact, secretly brainwashed using one of Wallace's inventions to dislike vegetables before being safely released. With Anti-Pesto proving a huge hit with the locals, a prestigious giant vegetable competition is being held at Tottington Hall and after catching a couple of bunnies on her lady, Lady Tottington (or Totty to her friends) is somewhat besotted with Wallace's humane approach.
However, things soon start to go wrong after Wallace accidentally messes up a mind meld with the rabbits which crosses his brainwaves with that of his rabbit subjects. As Gromit destroys the machine to prevent further damage, it looks as though they has escaped unharmed. But later that night, the town is terrorised by an unseen presence that has eaten their way through fields of finely grown produce. Wallace suspects that the rabbit whose mind crossed with his own, Hutch, is responsible but Gromit, who always was just that little bit smarter than his owner, has other ideas...
What's to like?
If you're unfamiliar with Wallace and Gromit then you are in for a treat. These characters have been with us since their debut in the short film A Grand Day Out back in 1989 and in that time, have become cherished representations of all things English around the world. What the film does well is introduce the pair to newcomers without spending ages recounting their previous adventures, not that they matter as each film is its own story. It also manages to retain that classic Aardman appearance despite the use of CG and obvious budget enhancements - you believe that it was knocked together painstakingly over many months in a shed somewhere like the earlier films were. The relationship between Wallace and Gromit is evident in the animation despite Gromit's lack of vocalisation as little eyebrow raises, tapping fingers and the occasional fourth wall breaking let us know exactly what's going on. Basically, if you enjoyed the short films (A Close Shave and The Wrong Trousers are my favourites) then you're going to really enjoy this film. Simple as.
For the rest of you, take solace in the fact that the film is much more approachable than the increasingly inclusive Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film brings in some big-name stars alongside series regulars and the likes of Fiennes and Bonham Carter fit in well with the warm charm of Sallis as the voice of Wallace. The story has the same slightly surreal hallmarks of the series but with a gentle nod to those cheesy Hammer horror films of the Fifties and Sixties. The quality of the animation surpasses anything the team have delivered before (including Chicken Run) and there are plenty of visual gags to keep your eyes open for. The secret to this style of animation is pinpoint precision when it comes to comic timing and this film is a goofy, child-friendly adventure that any family will enjoy and fall in love with.
- The film took five years to make, using 2.8 tonnes of plasticine and resulting in just three seconds of screen time being produced day. All the wallpaper on sets seen in the film was individually hand-painted while Lady Tottington's greenhouse featured 100 types of trees and more than 700 vegetables. Sadly, the Aardman warehouse in Bristol burnt to the ground which destroyed not just the hundreds of characters and sets but also much of the company's history.
- In case Wallace's love of cheese wasn't apparent, take a close look at some of the books displayed in his home - titles such as 'The Hunt For Red Leicester', 'Brie Encounter', 'East Of Edam' and 'Fromage To Eternity' all reference other films but using a cheesy pun.
- Stinking Bishop is a real cheese although not a very common one. The only producer of the cheese in the world - Hunts Court Farm in Gloucestershire - handmake around 22 tonnes every year and despite orders increasing 500% after the film's release, they haven't increased their production. It is not available in supermarkets but can sometimes be found at artisan food stores or places like Harrods or Selfridges in London.
What's not to like?
Knowing how often Hollywood flexes its muscles regarding films made overseas, the pressure to Americanise something as English as Wallace & Gromit must have been extraordinary. Thankfully, Nick Park (who somehow hasn't been knighted yet) stuck to his guns and the film makes little, if any, concessions to widening the film's appeal. It doesn't need to - if the short films are winning Oscars then there wasn't a reason to change anything. However, this may leave some overseas viewers a bit befuddled by some of the film's humour and references which are heavily aimed at a UK audience. But by and large, the film's sense of humour and fun are universal and shouldn't fly over too many heads.
If anything, the pressure on Park from DreamWorks was so much that he stepped back from directing feature films for more than a decade. Aardman's next film with DreamWorks, the digitally animated Flushed Away, was a box office bomb and the working arrangement between the two fell apart shortly after. It's hard to believe that the box office returns of Curse Of The Were-Rabbit were considered disappointing by DreamWorks (the only other stop-motion animated film that made more was Aardman's first film Chicken Run) and their foolishness is walking away from Aardman discouraged them for further feature-length films - Aardman's next feature film wasn't until 2011's Arthur Christmas, their first foray into 3D animation and like their other films was greeted positively by critics and audiences. Perhaps fans of Wallace and Gromit might not have had to wait so long for a sequel if DreamWorks had been more supportive and while a standalone sequel is apparently being produced, it's only going to appear on Netflix. It will also feature a new voice actor in the role of Wallace as Sallis passed away in 2017 at the age of 96. Shame on you, DreamWorks.
Should I watch it?
Curse Of The Were-Rabbit is everything fans love about Wallace & Gromit - silly stories, memorable characters, charming humour and gorgeous visuals. Whether you are newcomers to these characters or long-time fans such as myself, this film is a feast of fun for families and viewers of all ages. It might lack some of the quick pacing the short films obviously possess but the breadth of humour, perfect voice casting and surgically precise gags more than make up for it. By 'eck, lad - this is a bit of alright!
Great For: family film nights, establishing Park as one of the world's premier animators, viewers in the north of England, animal lovers
Not So Great For: the hunting community, anyone unfamiliar with British culture, people dismissive of a children's film because they think they won't like it
What else should I watch?
Park is arguably the most underrated filmmaker in animation today as his body of work is comparable with the likes of Hayao Mizayaki (Spirited Away), John Lasseter (Toy Story), Henry Selick (Coraline) and old man Disney himself. Park has even appeared in an episode of The Simpsons so you know he's held in pretty high esteem by those in the know. Because of the time-consuming nature of stop-motion animation, his feature films aren't great in number and he has developed a number of TV shows instead. His first directorial effort for feature films was Chicken Run, a twisted blend of prisoner-of-war drama and poultry-based comedy set among a flock of chickens inspired to escape their farm by a visiting rooster, played with a hint of self-awareness by Mel Gibson. But other films involving Park's influence as producer or writer include Early Man, Shaun The Sheep Movie (featuring a much-loved character from Wallace & Gromit short film A Close Shave) and its sequel, Farmageddon and frankly, they are all worth a look if you're thinking of entertaining younger viewers for a while. His next film is a long-awaited sequel to Chicken Run, Dawn Of The Nugget, which is due in 2023.
Of course, stop-motion animation has a long and illustrious history in the movies that stretches back to the very dawn of cinema itself. Czech animator and illustrator Jiří Trnka experimented with various techniques but found great success with animating puppets and his 1947 debut, The Czech Year, depicted several tales and customs within a single Czech village. Perhaps the most famous name associated with the technique was Ray Harryhausen, the special effects wizard behind the monsters seen in films like The Beast From 20'000 Fathoms and Jason And The Argonauts. The aforementioned Henry Selick achieved huge success with The Nightmare Before Christmas, a Tim Burton-inspired festive musical that continues to enjoy popularity many years later and stop-motion animation continues to thrive more than a century after its development and despite the rise of CG. Finally, I have to recommend Kubo And The Two Strings which was a critical smash when it was released in 2016 and is an enthralling action adventure that takes its inspiration from Japanese art.
Main Cast (voice performance)
Lord Victor Quartermaine
Helena Bonham Carter
Lady Campanula Tottington
PC Albert Mackintosh
Reverend Clement Hedges
|Directors||Steve Box & Nick Park|
Steve Box, Nick Park, Mark Burton & Bob Baker*
Release Date (UK)
8th October, 2005
Animation, Comedy, Mystery
Best Animated Feature
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