The sweater-vest wearing, cheese-loving clay miniature, Wallace, and his trusty, super intelligent, completely silent dog, Gromit, make their feature-length debut in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, an enjoyable tale full of wily critters and lots of vegetables.
As the film starts, we discover that Wallace and Gromit have started a pest- (mainly rabbit) control business (aptly named Anti-Pesto) that relieves the British inhabitants of West Wallaby Street of vegetable-consuming rabbits. A recent plague of garden-rampaging lepus has threatened proceedings on the eve of the ever-important giant vegetable competition, an annual event as precious as Christmas to the townsfolk. The people of West Wallaby pride themselves on their humongous cauliflowers and carrots, and Gromit himself is nursing a mighty melon for the big day. Of course, the pair doesn’t extinguish the rabbits; they keep them in basement cells where they are treated humanely and fed a constant diet of carrot chips.
Things go awry when inventor Wallace tries to concoct a method to brainwash his long-eared captors into thinking vegetables are gross. A thought-transfer mechanism results in a rabbit the size of King Kong who not only likes vegetables but can consume a hundred rabbits’ worth in one sitting. The townspeople freak out, so Wallace and Gromit are called upon to save the vegetable competition from their own monstrosity.
Wallace has a love interest in Lady Tottington (the snobby voice of Helena Bonham Carter), who has a voluptuous hidden garden that is sure to win the Golden Carrot at the competition. Challenging Wallace for her hand is the evil, bloodthirsty Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes, whose clay character looks like a pale version of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine villains, the Blue Meanies). Quartermaine discovers a giant secret about the monster rabbit, and he aims to put a golden bullet through its tomato-chomping head. Fiennes breathes much devilish life into Quartermaine, who fusses with a dumpy toupee and travels with a vicious, purse-toting pit bull.
The clay world, which has also been used in short films like Wallace and Gromit’s A Close Shave and the feature length film Chicken Run, is a joy to watch. Occasional fingerprints can be spotted on the clay miniatures, which have a remarkable field of expression. Directors Steve Box and Nick Park (also the creator of the characters) obviously spend much time concocting the Wallace and Gromit universe’s lush sets and picture-perfect details.
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has a little more life than Chicken Run, which looked great but dragged a bit. Although G-rated, it contains some rather racy, barely hidden adult humor. The periodic dirty jokes meant for parents didn’t get past the majority of children at the screening I attended. They laughed with mischievous glee every time Box and Park tried to sneak one by.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this film sparks a little jump in vegetable consumption among children within a couple of months. The movie’s sacred treatment of all things green provides a great message for today’s sugar-popping kiddies, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they started hopping around the house wiggling their noses and crunching on celery sticks.
On a sad note, a recent fire consumed the sets for all the Wallace and Gromit films, as well as the sets for Chicken Run. While the props for this film were not affected, a tremendous piece of animation history has been lost. The box-office success of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit ensures that Nick Park and his compatriots will probably be filling another warehouse full of sets in the coming years. Wallace and Gromit have a bright future, indeed.