Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
A reluctance to be funny . . .
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
No chickens in this stop-motion British animated comedy,just an eccentric owner, Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis), of the "Anti-Pesto" pest control firm and his mute dog, Gromit (actually has no mouth but exceptionally expressive eyes). Creators Steve Box and Nick Park have a full-length hit on their hands, replete with veggie lovers, British peerage, and two lead characters whose morning wakeup mechanics are worth the price of admission. Relocating rogue rabbits that would ravage gardens is the goal of Anti-Pesto, no doubt to the delight of humanitarians and the dismay of neocons.
A big hairy rabbit, apparently transformed by the moon, is stealing the highly-developed vegetables from a community that soon will have a world-class vegetable fair. Wallace's exterminator agency to the rescue. The ensuing chase, a delightful staple of their previous shorts, Wrong Trousers and Close Shave, and occasional movie references (see the were-rabbit carry a lady to the top of a tower pursued by toy planes) offer an often hilarious experience requiring some measure of intellect from its audience as well as a healthy sense of humor. The race for the affections of Lady Tottingham (Helena Bonham Carter--also a heartbreaking voice in Tim Burton's current stop-motion hit, Corpse Bride), by Wallace and Lord Quatermaine (Ralph Fiennes), exceeds all expectations for laughs at Brit peerage.
Big hands, big teeth, Brit cheeky self-deprecation and self-satisfaction are the stuff of Wallace and Gromit's loving satire. Oscar Wilde implied Americans might take to them when he noted a century ago, "English people are far more interested in American barbarism than they are in American civilization."
The stop-animated dolls, no more than a foot tall before being painstakingly photographed for each miniscule movement, have a life-like presence no CGI can replicate. And how that can be when CGI has created eerily human representations (Polar Express for one), is the mystery of the gift Box and Park offer. We are cursed with the genius of a were-rabbit whose big sin is to love vegetables. It's a Whole Foods celebration.
E.V. Lucas spoke convincingly of the latent amusement in Brits: "In England, it is a very dangerous handicap to have a sense of humor." It's the reluctance to be funny that makes this film and England itself a rich source of satire.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com