British Claymation geniuses Nick Park and Steve Box bring to life their best-loved characters Wallace (voiced by veteran actor Peter Sallis) and his faithful tongue-tied dog Gromit in a nifty children’s movie filled with just the right amount of bawdy double entendres to make adults snicker. Through a painstaking filming process that takes a full day to shoot at most two seconds of screen time, the filmmakers create a vibrant rural British community obsessed with growing giant vegetables for their annual fairground competition.
Wallace and Gromit run a brisk pest control business called “Anti-Pesto” by humanely capturing garden-ravaging bunnies with Wallace’s specially invented Bun-Vac 6000 contraption that “sucks as well as blows.” But their Northern England clientele go wiggy when an enormous rabbit attacks during a harvest full moon to devour every gigantic vegetable in sight. It’s “the world’s first vegetarian horror movie,” but there’s nothing scary about it.
Were-Rabbit follows animator Nick Park’s hugely entertaining Chicken Run (2000) with a determinedly unapologetic British brand of well-mannered humor. In the opening scenes we’re introduced to Wallace and Gromit as a couple of cohabiting pals whose work life is inextricably bound up with their meticulously planned home life. The two are automatically awakened and mechanically slid from their beds to a sliding board system that dresses them before depositing them into their special pest control truck with coffees in hand to answer their neighbor’s call to extricate the bunnies from her property.
There’s a Batman and Robin kind of appeal to their carefully designed operation and the audience is immediately submersed in a cheery world that is at once familiar and neighborly. Wallace, the irrepressible inventor, and his much smarter dog are an iconic duo you recognize even if you’re not familiar with their Oscar-winning short films The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave.
Wallace’s character trait of loving cheese beyond all reason finds Gromit acting as a helpful companion when he feeds Wallace a plate filled with nothing but vegetables. Little do we suspect that Wallace’s own desire to repress his addiction to fat-inducing cheese will have him inadvertently performing a mechanical mind meld with a bunny after relieving a certain Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) of an extensive rabbit infestation on her grand estate.
Ralph Fiennes brilliantly voices Lady Tottington’s gun-loving toupee-wearing suitor Victor Quartermaine, whose jealousy of Wallace’s romantic chemistry with Lady T. contributes to the picture’s action packed finale that includes an hilarious World War I-style dogfight between Gromit and Quatermaine’s bulldog.
Were-Rabbit took five years of meticulous work to create, and the final product is a lovingly rendered example of Plasticine animation that’s more satisfying than a CGI animated movie because you can sense the invisible human hands physically manipulating every expression on the irrepressible characters’ faces. The specifically British humor transcends a golden age of comedy that connects to our collective sub-conscious and unites several generations worth of ideas.
It’s a comic sensibility that kids naturally recognize and respond to for its innocently irreverent and eccentric qualities. When we see books like Brie Encounter, East of Edam and Fromage to Eternity on Wallace’s bookshelf, something inside just clicks. Besides all of that, it’s just a really damn cute movie. MTW