by Jeff Meyers
Director and stop-action animator Nick Parks work is filled with so much good-natured cheer and humor its hard to believe he can thrive in our irony-drenched culture. Of course, it helps that his work boasts insanely witty writing, frenetic action, nonstop gags and impressive set designs. Parks Aardman Studio struck gold a few years ago with their delightfully absurd Chicken Run. For most, however, the animators greatest creations are Wallace and Gromit.
Thanks to the voice work of Peter Sallis, Wallace is an infectiously cheery and remarkably oblivious inventor who blunders through life unaware of the havoc his Rube Goldberg creations wreak, even when he himself is the primary victim. His dim-witted naïveté is only outdone by his profound love of cheese. Gromit is his silent but all-too-aware canine companion, assistant and, more often than not, rescuer. Brainy, long-suffering and endlessly loyal, Gromit redefines mans best friend. Together the duo has starred in a trio of Oscar-winning shorts that cleverly paid homage to various film genres.
Anyone concerned that this goofy pair couldnt sustain a feature-length film should rest at ease. If the attention span of my 3-year-old son is any indication, this addition to the W&G canon should be an unqualified success. If it isnt, it says something very sad about our countrys taste in family entertainment.
The story is simple enough. In a community obsessed with gardening, the annual Giant Vegetable Competition hosted by Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) is the most important social event on the calendar. With marauding bunnies threatening to devour their prized veggies, the locals enlist the services of Wallace and Gromit, who run a humane pest control service called Anti Pesto. This irritates to no end Elvis-haired hunter Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), a preening nitwit who has designs on Tottington and would love to do nothing more than blast away at the furry little critters. When Wallace attempts to use his new Mind-O-Matic on the rabbits programming them to dislike vegetables things backfire and a voracious bunny-monster is set loose on the towns prized produce. Needless to say, things quickly spiral out of control.
Smart, snappy and relentlessly pun-laden, Were-Rabbit is a love letter to Universals classic horror films, and is hands-down the best animated film Dreamworks has ever released. Co-directors Park and Steve Box have created a remarkably sophisticated childrens movie, providing a fast and furious barrage of jokes aimed at kids and adults alike. Unlike the Shrek films or the insufferable A Sharks Tale, pop culture references arent used as a crutch to hide thin plots and underdeveloped characters. Instead, the humor spices up a story that already succeeds on its own merits.
All the vocal actors are terrific. Fiennes delivers a surprisingly comic performance as the smug and villainous Quartermaine. Bonham Carter cuts loose as Wallaces romantic interest, warbling and cooing with far more personality than her character in The Corpse Bride. Neither actor overpowers the film with their presence, seamlessly joining the cozy, off-kilter world Park has created.
But its the marvelously expressive characters and sets that continually surprise and delight. From the town priest anointing his eggplant with holy water to the Bun-Vac 6000 (sends confused bunnies swirling around a transparent vacuum canister), the film sparkles with invention and charm, and puts most computer-animated features to shame.
Though some may be baffled by its quintessential Englishness, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a magnificent work of passion bursting with endless visual delights. Theres enough heart, soul and humor to satisfy even the grumpiest skeptic. See it and you might even find yourself a bit peckish for a spot of Wensleydale cheese.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.