A tight-knit community is days away from their annual giant vegetable competition. Wallace and Gromit run a humane pest control service, (Anti-Pesto) operating out of a Thunderbirds style lair, ensuring that hungry rabbits don’t make salad out of the villagers’ prize-winning crops. But things get out of control when a monstrous ‘were-rabbit’ wreaks carrotastrophe, terrorising the poor simple folk, and their beloved veg. Can the dynamic duo stop the monster in time, or is the competition doomed…?
It was good to see a return to the fray from Wallace and Gromit, after a break of 10 years. But I was worried, given Nick Park’s last outing, Chicken Run (2000) that a feature length film would turn them from icons of quaint independent film-making into another Hollywood commodity. As it turned out, it was far better than anything I’d hoped for.
…the direction is much more sophisticated
Everything about this film stays true to the essence of the original Wallace and Gromit adventures — the protagonists’ relationship, the humour, Wallace’s bizarre inventions — and then adds to it, with the greater length allowing Park and Box to really flex their film-making muscles. The direction is much more sophisticated, including horror scenes near the beginning using a camera tracking along the ground, seeming to recall monster POV shots pioneered in The Evil Dead. What impressed me was that it must require incredible vision to pull this off successfully in a stop-motion animation.
The humour has been developed from simple, homely observations about the relationship between man and dog, to incorporate a wide range of comedic devices, including complex visual gags, especially the kind of blink-and-you-miss-it gags that’s often used by Matt Groening. There are endless film references — The Fly, Watership Down, The Wolf Man, King Kong etc. But the most noticeable addition was the constant verbal and written word-play. We are treated to a pun-a-minute throughout the entire film; the highlight for me was a book about monsters, written by ‘Claude Savagely.’
Another feature that gives it an extra lift is the light-hearted thread of social commentary that runs through the film. Fun is poked at the pro-hunt lobby in the form of a blood-thirsty toff (Victor Quartermaine, played by Ralph Fiennes) and also at the anti-hunt/vegetarian movement — “I’m against cruelty to fluffy animals”. GM food, the church, stupid police (Peter Kay), and the landed gentry, in the form of Lady Tottington, played by Helena Bonham Carter. (Wallace: “I’ll be there in an… Aaarrggh!” Tottington: “In an arggh? Oh no, I can’t wait as lorng as an arggh…”) are also on the receiving end of Park and Box’s gentle banter.
…it bodes well for the future of the likes of Aardman
Curse of the Were-Rabbit marks a real return to form for Nick Park and Aardman. Although purists may feel that it’s too brash and action-based, compared to the milder tone of Grand Day Out (1989), I don’t think anyone will really be complaining. Especially when one of the two lead actors communicates only via the long-suffering, silent dismay expressed through his canine eyebrows. And it bodes well for the future of the likes of Aardman that a film that looks like it was made in a shed, and whose heroes are plasticine models with Lancashire accents, can still achieve international attention and acclaim.