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Feat of Clay

 

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Nick Park, Steve Box, UK, 2005

Rating: 4.0

 

Posted: October 10, 2005

By Kevin Forest Moreau

There's a popular bit of self-empowerment fluff that goes something like this: "I want to be the person my dog thinks I am." But if Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is any indication of the state of man-dog relations, we might want to rethink that particular aspiration. The titular duo's feature-film debut (following three often-hilarious shorts) suggests that our canine companions love us not because they think we're perfect, but in spite of our imperfections. Dogs aren't fooled: They know we're idiots, but they love us anyway.

If that sounds like a human trait, it's only one of many evidenced by Gromit, the silent, ever-patient sidekick to slightly daft, cheese-loving inventor Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis). Among his many talents, Gromit can drive a van, handle power tools and fly a plane (even if it comes from a carnival ride). But his chief talent is clutching his "master" back from the jaws of disaster. That, and giving range to a full spectrum of thoughts and emotions (including countless shades of exasperation) via one of the most pliable, expressive faces ever to grace the cinema (despite the lack of a mouth).

In Were-Rabbit, dog and human are Anti-Pesto, a "humane" pest-control company that utilizes Wallace's inventions to keep the town's rabbits out of the residents' vegetable gardens, where the townsfolk are lovingly tending to the veggies they'll be presenting in the annual Giant Vegetable Competition. The "humane" part comes from the fact that Wallace uses a giant suction device (the "Bun-Vac 6000") to suck the bunnies out of their holes and deposit them in pens back at home. But there's only so much room at the inn, and rabbits have a tendency to breed like ... well, like rabbits. So Wallace sets out to modify the bunnies' behavior, hoping to cure them of their veggie cravings. Does there really even need to be a sentence here that tells you that things don't quite go as planned?

Soon enough, a giant beast with an insatiable appetite for vegetables is wreaking havoc on the town, putting Wallace at odds with the townsfolk and ruining his chances at a romance with the prim Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), whose family has run the competition for centuries. And so the pair must find a way to put a humane end to the problem of this unseen creature before Lady Tottington's gung-ho suitor, the pompous Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes, in full scenery-chewing villain mode), takes the situation in his own hands with less humane (and decidedly more permanent) results.

That description may be an apt summation of Were-Rabbit's plot, but it hardly captures its essence: the rather British conveyor-belt efficiency of its slapstick set pieces, sight gags and groan-inducing puns (Wallace's bookshelf contains such titles as "East of Edam" and "Grate Expectations"), or the even-more-British stoicism of the beleaguered Gromit, who presses on, in that English way, determined to persevere in spite of his master's affable cluelessness.

In its own way, Gromit's tenacity mirrors that of the film itself. Its stop-motion clay animation is a painstaking process (Were-Rabbit is the product of five years' work), which coupled with its English sensibility limits the duo's viability as a cash-producing franchise in the States (just think how many Madagascars and Chicken Littles could be churned out in that amount of time!). But the animators -- and Gromit -- soldier on regardless, motivated by something larger than themselves. And in both cases, the world is, ever so slightly, a better place for it.

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