CG animated feature films may be a richly successful market, but in the last year or two we’ve come to learn that doesn’t automatically mean good filmmaking. In fact outside of Pixar’s efforts and a certain “Shrek” franchise, the genre has been plagued by some quite bad films ranging from the ordinary (Madagascar) to the dull (Robots, Valiant) to the just plain bad (Shark Tale). Leave it to Aardman Studios to show that its not the method but the message that’s important. That even the stop-motion animation genre, one long thought dead or marginal at best, can bear ripe fruit that will not only make the accountants happy but the audiences as well.
“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” is without question both the best non live-action film and best family film since last year’s “The Incredibles”. Expanding any comedy series originally built around a half-hour format into a full-length feature is always a risky business, and yet the big screen adventures of the oddball English inventor and his mute genius dog are in fact more fun and entertaining than their previous series of Oscar-winning animated shorts. Even the likes of Aardman’s first feature, the delightful but somewhat spotty “Chicken Run”, pales in comparison on almost every level to this.
A stronger story, impressive production and technical values, and that refreshing sense of British wit all come together to pull off a very cinematic feature that will delight both long-time fans and newcomers all at once. The script follows some predictable lines to be sure, and new characters ranging from the over the top snobbish villain Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes hamming it up) to the effervescently snooty Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) aren’t what you would call ‘developed’. Yet it doesn’t matter as the general storyline flows nicely, the gags keep flying thick and fast without any sense of lag or self-aware sarcasm, and the third act – usually the weakest point of all animated films – ends up being the film’s strongest asset.
Admittedly the early scenes of the film seem like merely a continuation of the shorts but it helps both setup the film’s setting and quickly makes it all accessible to those who’ve never heard of this pair of plasticine pals. As the film progresses it manages to combine a throwback monster movie B-plot with some both dry understated and wildly over the top British humour including plenty of slapstick, satire, clean ‘dirty’ jokes for the kiddies, more double entendres than a James Bond film, a lot of groan-inducing puns and plenty of visual sight gags. The pace only increases as the film progresses which makes the final half-hour a rather breathlessly enjoyable fun romp.
On a technical level as well its superb. The feature unrolls on a much larger scale than the shorts did and whilst there’s still the welcome home-made feel to all the plasticine on display, many of the shots that make up the film are an impressive accomplishment that can only have been done with a lot of time, care and effort. Not just the size of the production but the cinematography, lighting and overall character/set designs are all expertly crafted to fit perfectly into this world. A handful of CG effects are seamlessly blended in to pull off some memorable moments ranging from an ever spinning maelstrom of bunnies inside a vacuum chamber to a dissipating were-rabbit mist silhouette.
The only real downside that can be said is that at times it goes for the obvious. Despite all the naughty little jokes for adults, this does aim at essentially a younger crowd than you’d expect. Thus the storytelling and characterisation of the script are decidedly on the simple and admittedly derivative side. Still, it’s a minor quibble at best – the film is utterly charming, witty and entertaining for all ages from start to finish. A visual treat which packs genuine fun and heart, something missing from so many films of late its quite shocking to see such qualities again. Simply a delight.