Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Aardman are now established on the international animation circuit, where once they were a very British phenomenon. With Chicken Run, their appealing, wide-mouthed claymation style was introduced to a wider audience, most notably in America, while this film cemented their reputation, so that today the upcoming release of Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists is quite an event, and their 3D branch, while less of a stand-out, is a moderate success too, with Arthur Christmas and Flushed Away at least on the radar of most parents and animation fans. Every 3DS owner in the UK, and for all I know far beyond, is getting new 3D cartoons of Shaun the Sheep, Wallace and Gromit have been parodied on The Simpsons and Hayao Miyazaki has professed himself a fan and had an Aardman exhibit set up for a time in the Ghibli museum.

It was really this film that was the pivot: it had much to prove at the time. The quite brilliant The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave were still very much obscurities outside England, and Chicken Run had just made the world sit up and take notice. On the other hand, I’d hold this film up as an example of a studio in the right place being able to have a misfire but still garner much praise, as though they could do no wrong; much as I love Aardman and especially Wallace and Gromit, which has buckets more charm than Chicken Run or Arthur Christmas, I was disappointed when I saw this, back on Hallowe’en 2005.

After mentioning affectionately that my dear ole mum mixed up the name and called it ‘Grommarsh and Wurzel’, I wrote that the film ‘follows Wallace and his loyal, bizarrely sexualised canine life partner as they attempt to protect the town’s vegetables from a terrible furry menace. It was fun, but not quite as good as I’d hoped – not as witty or as affecting as Chicken Run, The Wrong Trousers or A Close Shave, and rather harder to swallow than any of them. Still, it made me smile throughout, and [was full of] funny references.’ I would probably have left out that part about Gromit being sexualised if I wrote today, despite the van scenes, as it’s an observation that lends itself to endless academic overanalysis and conjecture, as well as painting the duo in what may seem like a disparaging light when actually I adore them. The film has a great cast – Ralph Fiennes hamming it up, posh Helena Bonham Carter being extra-posh as ‘Totty’, and of course Peter Sallis providing Wallace’s wonderful Yorkshire accent. Like many light comedy animations, much of its humour comes from pastiche, with the title making it clear that the subject here would be horror, undermined by the fearsome creature being a bunny. A plethora of terrible rabbit-related puns ensue, the worst being ‘24-carrot bullets’, as well as the staples of the series: impressive action scenes with Gromit – one of the great mute characters of animation – having to work very hard, silly Rube Goldberg machines and a sweet obsession with silly things like cheese and vegetable competitions. It’s all delightfully English, daft and charming and pandering only very slightly to a wider audience. (Supposedly accents had to be toned down a little.)

My problem was not that it was bad – only that I had hoped it would be much better. It simply isn’t up there with the sheer brilliance of The Wrong Trousers, which remains the best outing for the characters. I wanted the concept to be on a grander scale (while of course retaining the tweeness), and there to be less viciousness about dispatching the baddie. Essentially, I think Wallace and Gromit would be much more widely-known had the film been a longer version of The Wrong Trousers. That said, I hope Nick Park gets another shot at a Wallace and Gromit feature. Indeed, many more shots – the more the better!

For all I may have felt it was underwhelming, though, it was critically lauded, and of course was an Oscar winner. I’ll leave you with what I wrote on 06.03.06, the morningafter the ceremony: Fond as I am of Wallace and Gromit, I don’t think Were-Rabbit should have won against Howl’s Moving Castle. Neither of them were my favourite films from their respective makers, but Howl was certainly the better film. Then again, Spirited Away won last time, and the Academy always seems averse to rewarding the same people consecutively.'

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