In the past week, I've watched 2012's 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits,' the 2015 Netflix documentary, 'A Grand Night In' and a bunch of old 'Shaun the Sheep' shorts, all before I was coming up with article ideas and realized 'wait, my Aardman Animation binge has a purpose?' Funny how those things work out?
But let's go back a little bit for some context, shall we? Aside from Laika, the U.K's Aardman Animations has arguably been keeping stop-motion filmmaking alive in modern animation. They've been winning over acclaim for almost 50 years, between a mix of simple stories, very witty (and very British) senses of humor, and a distinct love for their craft that is always evident.
Their accomplishments range from beloved characters like Shaun the Sheep to legendary music video projects like Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer." However, for a lot of North American audiences, that brand of creativity didn't really become well-known until the studio's partnership with DreamWorks Animations in the early 2000s.
Starting with the surprise success of 2000's 'Chicken Run,' Aardman was DreamWorks' way of extending itself into the stop-motion world beyond its hand-drawn and CGI projects. What better avenue for a follow-up than to bring two of the studios' most well-known characters, Wallace and Gromit, properly to the big screen?
But even with solid financial results and a second Best Animated Feature Oscar for DreamWorks, 'The Curse of the Were-Rabbit' was the first significant sign of a growing split between the two studios. 15 years later, both partners have gone their separate ways and 'The Curse of the Were-Rabbit' is still remembered fondly, if not somewhat obscurely.
I distinctly remember loving this movie when it came out, mainly because that sense of self-reflective British humor really worked for me and I had been exposed to a lot of the Aardman style before watching it. But even I was a bit curious as to whether or not it would actually hold up all these years later as a complete film. After all, Wallace and Gromit's initial popularity was based in short films like 'The Wrong Trousers' that never overstayed their welcome; would this feel too stretched out to maintain that kind of charm?
Well, I'm really glad I re-watched this when I did, between my aforementioned Aardman re-exposure and it being so close to Halloween. 'Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit' holds up in most regards, lifting a lot of the classic humor and charm from the original shorts into a story that works as a fun monster movie that anyone can enjoy.
Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and his dog, Gromit, run Anti-Pesto, a pest control business that mostly deals with the rabbits that eat up the neighborhood vegetables. But instead of killing the rabbits, Wallace and Gromit are attempting to find ways to rehabilitate them, especially with the Biggest Vegetable Contest coming up. This garners the attention of Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), a wealthy aristocrat who wants the animals to roam free, and Lord Victor Quartermaine (voiced by Ralph Fiennes), an arrogant hunter vying for Tottington's hand in marriage.
Eventually, Wallace creates a device called the Mind-Manipulation-O-Matic to theoretically brainwash the rabbits into not liking vegetables. However, the experiment backfires and winds up creating the Were-Rabbit, a monstrous creature who ravages the residents' crops at night. As Wallace attempts to reassure the townsfolk of their safety, Gromit discovers more information about the creature, as the two of them race to save the town before the festival.
If nothing else, the craft of stop-motion is on full display here. Directors Nick Park and Steve Box do a great job with giving the world a sense of physical presence that isn't necessarily unique but is nonetheless incredibly admirable. The physical set designs, the energized chase sequences and the multitude of characters on display; it's all handled incredibly well and boggles my mind as to the work hours those animators must have faced.
There's a reason why Wallace and Gromit have endured as they have for so long and a lot of the film is just seeing them work off of one another. Wallace is kind and self-aware (if a bit too eccentric for his own good) and Gromit is the voice of reason (ironic given that he doesn't speak) that usually comes up with the bulk of the story's solution. Together, they make for a great comedic duo, charming enough to root for and self-aware enough to point out the absurdities around them.
Speaking of which, the film is really quite funny. To be fair, I'm coming from a place where that style of delivery and wit is totally my thing, but I also think there's more than enough humor that feels universal. It's not always flashy or constantly built up, but the jokes are plentiful around here, especially the physical gags (there's a chase scene involving an old woman and her pumpkin that had me cackling).
The biggest criticism I can muster is something I've heard a fair few reviews cover, that being the runtime. 85 minutes is short for any movie, but this is might be an exception. I won't go as far as to say it was a bad idea to stretch this out because I just listed all of the reasons why it DOES work. Yet I would argue that it feels long at points and that sense of plotting can feel a bit grating. If you've never been a fan of Wallace and Gromit's simplistic tone, the efforts to make things bigger and better might come off as a bit half-baked.
I'm leaving this review a bit shorter than usual, but only because that's most of what I wanted to get across. I don't think its possible to watch an Aardman film without at least a pretty consistent smile on one's face and 'The Curse of the Were-Rabbit' certainly deserves some of that enjoyment. The animation is directed and crafted impeccably, the humor is great, and it's really impossible to hate Wallace and Gromit as characters.
Sure, maybe it bites off a bit too much and it's not quite at the level of its predecessors ('The Wrong Trousers' is still probably top tier), but I didn't really mind those shortcomings. If this is the only time we get to see Wallace and Gromit on the big screen, this is worth the effort and certainly as part of my Halloween collection.
Overall, I give 'Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit' 8/10
Want to follow me on social media? Follow me on Twitter and IG @TheMovieKing45