Since high-tech animation became popular in the mid-1990s, the genre of children’s movies has become more cinematically realistic as technology advances. Wielding a rebellious army of giant ravenous bunnies and vividly colorful clay, British favorites Wallace and Gromit (created by Nick Park) present the silly, but essentially charming, “Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”
Simply charismatic to the core, the stop-motion animated pair has struck gold once again in their first feature-length film, flawlessly retaining the light-hearted and melon-headed legacy of irreverence that they have created with their shorter performances, such as 1995’s Oscar-winning “A Close Shave.”
For those unfamiliar with the imported duo, our unlikely heroes are the bald and increasingly pudgy Wallace Pesto (voiced by Peter Sallis) and his mute but trusty canine sidekick Gromit. In this film, the adorably British pair runs a humane pest control service, called “Anti-Pesto,” and business is booming as the townspeople desperately try to keep mischievous rabbits away from their prize vegetables.
But rather than killing the pesky critters, Wallace and Gromit keep them in the basement of their house while Wallace tries to invent a way to rehabilitate them. Although their gadget-filled house does everything from dressing its owners to managing their clients, Wallace’s domestic wizardry comes up dangerously (and hilariously) short. His attempts to brainwash the captive rabbits create a towering produce-crazed monster with “teeth like razor blades and ears like tombstones” that spends its evenings terrorizing backyard gardens and green houses.
Things begin to get really scary, though, just when it seemed like Wallace had given up his waist-distending cheese lust — he sheds a few pounds of clay and discovers the merits of raw food.
In true “Inspector Gadget” fashion, it is the sweet and reliable Gromit who discreetly runs the show (i.e. making sure that Wallace gets out of bed on time) and ultimately discovers the mysterious identity of the Were-Rabbit.
As the town’s pastor recounts his first-hand experience with the Were-Rabbit, Wallace and Gromit’s gentler methods of pest removal are called into question. Instead, the town begins look more favorably on the murderous methods of the swashbuckling and toupee-wearing Victor Quartermaine (voiced by Ralph Fiennes). As the treasured vegetables continue to be destroyed, the only person who seems to still believe in Anti-Pesto is Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) — a carrot-haired local aristocrat, Quartermaine’s girlfriend and the adulteration of Wallace’s usually benign and bashful affection (a googling of her nickname “Totty” unearths a bevy of British smut).
Harkening back to, and parodying, horror movie cliches, the reactionary Reverend Clement Hedges warns that “the beast lurks in all of us.” Wallace and Gromit toy with the fear of technology — and British concerns about GMOs — as the hysterical clergyman suggests that tampering with nature has brought this Halloween Bunny plague upon the town. The real question is whether Wallace’s tinkering or the veg-obsessed townspeople are to blame for this unnatural retribution.
In proper British form, “Wallace and Gromit” features delicious word play (mixing arson and “arse-in,” toupee and “to pay”), as well as Monty Python-esque pointed silliness. Unlike some of the more tear-jerking Disney fare, the film does not try to be serious or dramatic. Instead it is a brief and outright absurd romp that touches on the dangers of science, social stratification and environmental ethics, without showing particular reverence to any of them.
Also sneakily lurking just below the surface is some serious (and seriously awkward) sexual tension between Wallace and Lady Tottington. As the pair marvel over a giant phallic carrot in her secluded greenhouse, they take turns cooing “just think what it would taste like” and “feel its silken flesh.” Alone in the steamy greenhouse, things continue to heat up between the clay figures until the trusty Gromit intervenes, unleashing a torrent of frothing hose water on the sexually sordid pair. The scene is nearly disturbing (and creepily reminiscent of the “Team America” puppet sex scene), yet Wallace is so laughably timid that the bumbling Brit just seems endearingly misguided.
The same goes for the rest of the film, which fills its glossy Vin Diesel-esque blockbuster shell with equally bald, but entirely animated, caricatures. Masking crass Hollywood plot ploys with pun-laden British humor and the fantastic goofiness of claymation, the “Wallace and Gromit” canon offers another rollickingly silly addition to its arsenal. Five years in the making — with only an average of three seconds of usable film a day — the newest installment is worth the wait.