There's oodles of action in Nick Park and Steve Box's Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, about the attempts of a daffy English inventor and his stoic, smarter dog to rid their home village of a vegetable-ravaging monster. Wallace, the man, scoops up rabbits by the hundreds in his mighty Bun-Vac 6000 ("It blows and sucks"). Gromit, the pooch, gets involved in some World War I--style aerial combat with another canine--a real dogfight. At film's end, the heroine, Lady Tottington, and the dread Were-Rabbit have a housetop confrontation worthy of (i.e., stolen from) King Kong. The whole rollicking adventure zips along a mile a minute.
And a second a day. That's about as much of this stop-motion animation epic as any one of the film's 30 animators at Aardman Studios in Bristol, England, could produce. Stop motion, as used in Tim Burton's Corpse Bride and Park's 2000 hit Chicken Run, is essentially a series of still photographs (running through the movie projector at 24 frames a second), and each tableau, which may contain dozens of Plasticine characters, must be posed and shot before the next one is begun. The animator's job is to get the humor and humanity in each shot. "Sometimes it's just the way Gromit moves his head," says Park. "There's a million ways he can look up, and [you're in trouble] if it's not just right and doesn't capture what you're after." The 85-min. Were-Rabbit has 122,400 shots, which explains why this mini-masterpiece took five years to make.
The final work justifies every meticulous, monastic, masochistic effort. For longtime Gromit groupies and Wallace-y wonks, who know the pair from their early films A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave (the last two won Oscars for Best Animated Short), the new film proves that this endearingly odd couple can carry a feature-length film with easy poise. Newcomers will be charmed by the characters, then drawn into the suspense as a man is transformed into a killer bunny in a scene scarier--and even funnier--than Oliver Reed's hirsute metamorphoses in the old Hammer Studios' horror movie The Curse of the Werewolf. And the kids will giggle with pride as they spot the furtive gags, like the magazine hidden by the town's vicar (Pro Nun Wrestling) or the name of the author of a book on animal wounds (Claude Savagely).
The earlier films established Wallace (voiced by veteran Brit character actor Peter Sallis) as a vague, cheerful bachelor, whose obsession for dreaming up elaborate contraptions almost equals his fondness for cheese. (Wallace's bookshelf, as seen in Were-Rabbit, contains such volumes as East of Edam, Brie Encounter and Fromage to Eternity.) Gromit, his master's fretful servant and savior, is mute. He conveys his always justified anxiety via minute twitches of the most eloquent movie eyebrows since Groucho's. At the climax of each film, Wallace's handyman hubris has put the duo in an awful dilemma that can be resolved only with a thrilling chase. Domesticity restored!