I’m very late to the party where Wallace & Gromit are concerned. They’re the clay-animated subjects of three critically acclaimed British shorts, most of which I’ve watched in stupefied silence. But with their feature-length film, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, something clicked, and I now consider myself a W&G fan.
British humor is rife with eccentricities, and this pair has enough of them to fill a book. Wallace (lovingly voiced by Peter Sallis) is an inventor of outrageous gadgets, and he lusts over cheese, his favorite food. Gromit is Wallace’s sidekick-dog, who rolls his eyes at Wallace’s latest blunders but nevertheless helps him out of trouble.
The movie’s story is that Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) is preparing for the annual vegetable contest that her family has held for over five centuries. Everyone is concerned about rabbits destroying their prize veggies. Enter W&G with their Anti-Pesto service, which vacuums up the wayward rabbits and stores them in a humane manner.
For this, Wallace earns Lady Tottington’s respect but becomes an unwitting rival for her affections. Wallace’s nemesis is Lord Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), a hunter who longs to marry Lady T. solely for her fortune, and who wishes to shoot all pests, be they four-legged or human.
Then there’s the titular monster, who’s set on ruining the veggie contest, and who eventually causes Wallace a great deal of guilt.
The plot sounds far more complicated than it plays out. The movie breezes along at 85 minutes and offers a lot of laughs. It also has a surprising share of pathos, particularly as played out on the multi-expressive face of Gromit. He’s a clay-animated Chaplin who says more with a facial expression than many characters do with a page of dialogue. Can we nominate him for Best Animated Actor?
Another of this movie’s virtues is its handmade-ness. Clay animators struggle hard to hide their labors. But every once in a while, if you look closely, you can see a fingerprint on one of the clay “actors.” In these days of sanitized CGI cartoons, I find that kind of charming.