Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

There is trouble brewing in the back yard of cheese-loving, home inventor Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his loyal companion, the pragmatic, worry-riven, and mute dog Gromit. Tottington Hall’s annual Giant Vegetable Competition is fast approaching, and the village, indeed the entire shire, has been overrun with voracious herbivore rabbits. Fortunately, the Plasticine duo now run a thriving security company, Anti-Pesto, replete with laser triggered alarms placed in garden gnome statuary, and are ever at the ready with mechanical and philosophical inventiveness, fueled by amazing, Vaudeville-quality, punning powers of reasoning.

When Lady Tottington, who bears an uncanny resemblance to both Mr. Bill and a tall carrot, seeks out Anti-Pesto for a humane solution to her infestation, the clay boys soon find themselves dodging bullets and battling wits with the good Lady’s foppish suitor, the gun-toting Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes). Meanwhile, a mysterious, oversized were-rabbit, an amalgam of several 1930s Universal horror flicks and another endless source of visual and verbal punning, is on the rampage.

Nick Park’s beloved clay-animation characters have been making movies, very sparingly for sure, for sixteen years, and Wallace and Gromit fans will shout hurrah and call for more cheese, at this endearing first feature-length cartoon of their adventures. In A Grand Day Out, the two flew to the moon, in a cozily Victorian-decored rocket ship on a quest for cheese. In the follow-up, The Wrong Trousers, the boys conducted their first bit of sleuthing when the penguin boarder Wallace had taken in to help meet expenses proved slightly sociopathic. And it was in A Close Shave, when they were overrun with sheep, when Wallace had his first near-romantic encounter with a lady of the opposite sex. Curse of the Were-Rabbit not so much reprises as plays saucily upon these previous adventures and playfully elaborates further complications, from the Rube Goldbergian alarm system to the Bun-Vac 6000, able to suck bunnies from their lairs with a single whoosh.

The screen is rich with nostalgic images, hand-crafted artifacts, and cartoon-ish vegetables. By night Wallace’s village resembles a fogged-in industrial North crime scene straight out of a Sherlock Holmes tale. By day the vast estate of Lady Tottington’s manor suggests the morning after of the Hound of the Baskervilles, the brightly lit Harvest Festival fairgrounds more nourished and wholesome than Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, and the mysterious were-rabbit a mirthful compendium of Hollywood horror cliche. Much to Wallace’s chagrin, Lady Tottington’s nocturnal tryst in the high tower of her secret garden in the conservatory comes to naught.

Wallace and Gromit drive a 1964 Austin A35, on city streets, through private gardens, and even through a were-rabbit burrow. An actual Austin was used to make the model. Extensive computer-generated design was used to enhance the now-primitive-appearing plasticene stop-motion animation, which in turn is turned to charming nostalgic effect. Gromit’s dogfight scene fought in toy biplanes from a carnival ride takes him over, under, around and through the fairgrounds, the Miracle-grown vegetable exhibits, and through Victor Quartermaine’s Elvis toupee. For his part, Victor manages to shoot not just three golden (24-carrot) bullets scarfed from the village vicar, but also a golden carrot from a golden bazooka.

Actually, everything is all in only the best, sweetest, most mock-horror fun. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is guaranteed good fun, a fall holiday evening out for the whole family, from great-grandma to Junior’s favorite stuffed toy. Long live the boys of West Wallaby Street and their adventures of derring-do, their homey inventiveness, and the power of cheese, Gromit, cheese!

Les Wright