Stop motion animation has so much potential in its use for horror, as Tim Burton and Laika have shown us their films. Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, puts its stop motion animation to a different use, for a more comedic and quirky, though nonetheless Halloween-y film. This is the second time that Wallace and Gromit have appeared on this site for a holiday tribute; last time as a Valentine’s love note by the writer of Second Breakfast. Unfortunately, unlike him, I do not have a long standing relationship with the series, and so I hold no nostalgic sentiment for the characters. But that did not stop them from endearing themselves to me as I watched their first (and so far only) feature film.
The story follows the friendly, cheese-loving inventor, Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his silent, yet intelligent dog Gromit as they run a humane pest-control business, called Anti-Pesto, in charge of protecting the gardens of a small village from rabbits before its annual vegetable competition. Our titular characters meet some opposition in the form of Lord Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), a cruel man who thinks that shooting the rabbits is the answer. Victor becomes Wallace’s rival in both his business and in his affections for the kind Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), host of the vegetable competition. Things start to get out of hand when a moon-powered experiment by Wallace creates a giant were-rabbit that wreaks havoc on the village’s vegetable gardens. The plot itself is rather predictable as you watch it, but it makes up for its predictability with a unique sense of wit, near perfect comedic timing, and characters who I now recognize why they are household names.
The visual comedy presented in the movie is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and the characters, some of the most lovable. The stop motion animation, though of an older style, is top notch and has an amazing amount of detail. Just looking at the background in a lot of the shots is sure to get some laughs or tell you about the scene that is to come. I love the movie’s opening scene where the camera pans over a set of pictures of the pair, showing a bit about their backstory and giving us a feel for their relationship. Even for someone like me, who has not seen any Wallace and Gromit shorts before viewing this film, it allowed me to understand a bit about the duo without having any prior knowledge. The amount of crazy contraptions around the house, including the classic Rube Goldberg-esque way of waking them up and getting them to work, is a fun asset of their characterization. Even something simple, like the “assistance” that Wallace asks for, shows a bit about how the two understand one another with very few words. This is boiled down to what I think the best part of the movie is – and that is Gromit. Or rather, Gromit’s facial expressions. It is a wonder to me how so simple of a character design can convey so much with so little movement. Gromit is a master of the eyeroll and of the meaningful stare. I think my favorite comedic moment in the film is where Gromit and Victor’s dog are fighting in coin-operated plane (that they somehow managed to make fly for real). The plane runs out of time, and they put a pause on their fighting to enter in a new set of coins, even going so far as to motion to the other one for extra change. This is placed in the middle of a climactic chase scene, and yet the film stops to make a well-timed joke. It really is brilliant and kind of reminds me of how comedy in animation tends to make better use of the visual medium than a lot of recent live action comedies, which tend to rely on dialogue and spoken jokes.
When you compound this visual understanding of the humor with the fact that our two main characters mainly rely on looks and body language to interact, it makes for very effective comedy and character development. This is probably the key to Wallace and Gromit’s popularity as a whole. I am obviously making large assumptions, as Curse of the Were-Rabbit is the only Wallace and Gromit I’ve seen, but I know that this type of humor is a long-standing tradition in animation, going back to the Looney Tunes. If you can have an entire series of shorts about a coyote chasing a roadrunner with no dialogue, you can make a humorous, stop-motion visual comedy about a quirky inventor and his dog using similar principles. Tie their relationship together with a heartwarming tale about man and man’s best friend, and you have a perfect and beautiful animation experience.