Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were Rabbit

Back when I was six years old, someone presented me with a plasticine set – you know, the kind where you get this whole bunch of dough and an assortment of strange hats and pipes and shoes, and you’re supposed to put together vaguely potato-head type creatures. I had an amazing amount of fun with that set, coming up with a varied assortment of vague figures that won, at the time, considerable acclaim from my mother and other such doting, if somewhat unobjective critics.

Nothing I came up with in those days, however, could even begin to approach the (literally) phenomenal work of two-time Oscar winner Nick Park, whose incredible cast of plasticine models make him perhaps the most engaging, most creative and most down-right entertaining animator in the world today. Wallace and Gromit may be the most ingenious comic pairing to come out of the UK since Wooster and Jeeves (forgive me, I swore I wouldn’t make this comparison, but it’s just too obvious not to be made).

They aren’t much to look at, of course. Just two pasty-faced characters, a middle-aged balding man with a paunch and his long-suffering dog, inhabiting a world that is almost deliberately ersatz. Park’s world is very far from the breezy sophistication of Pixar – there are no dazzling visuals here, no stunning visual effects. Like a true puppet master, Park knows that what the audience really connects to, what the audience really craves, is a story – get them involved in the action and they won’t even notice the fine artwork. How many people watched Finding Nemo for the glorious visuals of underwater life, how many people (viewers, not critics) even noticed them? Right, exactly. Not that there isn’t a great deal of painstaking animation here – it took five years to make this movie – it’s just that Park is not trying to make his animation look as though it could have been shot in the real world with a camera, he’s trying to make it look as cartoon like as possible. The visual clunkiness of Wallace and Gromit is entirely deliberate.

And it’s not just the visuals where Park is not trying to be unique. The real genius of Park is that he understands the fundamental creed of good light-hearted comedy – don’t show them something they haven’t seen before. Good comedy doesn’t need to be unpredictable or profound, on the contrary, it’s precisely the silliness, the total obviousness of the plot that allows the audience to relax and thoroughly enjoy themselves. To watch Wallace and Gromit is to be bathed in a glow of happy and warm nostalgia, to be allowed to laugh yourself silly at all its corny jokes, to be permitted to admire the sly wit (both verbal and visual) that Park brings to the movie, safe in the knowledge that what will eventually happen is entirely inevitable. Anthony Lane, in his review of the movie in the New Yorker (a review that I entirely endorse and urge you to read, if only for the cracks about Jessica Alba) compares Park to Chaplin and Keaton – the comparison is entirely apt.

This movie, the duo’s full length feature, opens in the sleepy village of Tottington, where a plague of rabbits threatens the beloved veg of the local populace. As the annual Tottington vegetable fair (with its coveted prize of the Golden Carrot) nears, Wallace and Gromit (who run a ‘humane’ pest control agency called, inevitably, Anti-pesto) are entrusted with the important responsibility of keeping the village produce safe from these pests. This leaves them however, with a problem of surplus rabbits (they can’t kill them, you see, that would be too cruel a bunny-shment) which Wallace, with an inspiration unequalled since Frankenstein, proposes to dispose off through proper rehabilitation of the rabbits using a machine (of his invention, naturally) to brainwash their impressionable bunny minds. In the time-honoured tradition of all experiments conducted under a ghostly moon and involving electricity and brains in the same sentence, things go horribly wrong, and soon a fabled monster from the depths of Hell, a were-rabbit, is terrorising the local population, crunching away at their cabbage, destroying whole swathes of pumpkins, leaving the shattered bodies of young carrots in its ravaging wake. How will our heroes deal with so hare-raising a calamity? Will they be able to save the village, or is the entire situation completely hop-less?

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a hilarious, action-packed romp of a comedy, at once a lovable modern fairy tale and a wickedly clever spoof of a whole range of cinematic genres. The snide spoofs of horror movies I was expecting, but King Kong? Batman? Jaws? It says a lot for the cleverness and subtlely of the movie that the movie I feel it spoofs the most is that World War II classic – Mrs. Minniver. Park’s attention to detail is simply mind-blowing – just check out the sequence of framed pictures that make up the opening scene of the film – that alone tells you you’re in the presence of genius. Plus there’s the endless supply of atrocious puns (a sample: How do you kill a were-rabbit? With a golden bullet, of course, it’s 24 carrots you see) and the tireless little visual jokes. Don’t get me wrong, much of the humour here is distinctly, well, cheesy (heh), but it’s cheesiness done exceptionally well, and that’s what makes it so delightful. For sheer gags – puns, clever little asides, manic retakes of famous scenes – The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is fully the equal of Shrek. Only faster.

It’s also a warmer, more insistently real film. Part of what makes Wallace and Gromit so lovable, is that their ingenuity is the ingenuity of children. Who but a child would rig up a complicated alarm system that would end in a massive finger poking you in bed. Who but a child would imagine putting in an automated system that dropped you into your chair for breakfast, and then dressed you while you were sitting there? Wallace and Gromit aren’t just funny – they’re also lovable and that’s a rare combination.

Bottomline: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is one of the most deliciously, inspiredly silly films I’ve seen in a long time. Watch it. It’ll remind you of just how much fun true silliness can be.

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