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Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

Nick Park, you beautiful lunatic, congratulations. That Oscar’s going to look simply cracking on your mantelpiece next February.

Earlier today, my wife and I took Toshi to see his first movie in the theater. I figured CORPSE BRIDE has been out a few weeks now, and the first show at the Chinese would be relatively empty, so we wouldn’t have to worry about disturbing anyone even if the baby got fussy for a moment. It was indeed almost completely empty, but I shouldn’t have worried about it. Toshi was captivated be the first two-thirds of the film, sitting quietly on my wife’s lap and watching the screen the entire time. Then, obviously overstimulated, he fell asleep for the last stretch. As much as I loved visiting the sets for CORPSE BRIDE, I have to say that my final verdict on the film is that it’s beautiful but a little thin. It’s a film you glide along the surface of with almost nothing that draws you in any further. There's one scene that seems to hint at real emotion, but that's it. It’s a technical marvel, but I’m not sure I detected a beating heart in there anywhere.

But with WALLACE AND GROMIT IN THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT, Dreamworks has got something that’s got a heart and soul, a magnificent work of passion that is hilariously funny. It’s easily the best animated film they’ve ever released as a company, and it might well be one of the best films overall that they’ve released. Nick Park has wanted to make a feature-length Wallace and Gromit film for many years, and he’s got to be thrilled with the end result. As much as I adore THE WRONG TROUSERS, this film trumps it in every way, which is great news for fans of the characters, and which I hope will mean that this becomes a monster runaway hit this fall. As much as THE WRONG TROUSERS paid tribute to certain types of noir and suspense films, WERE-RABBIT is a love letter to horror films, packing in any number of loving homages even as it tells an original story that could only come from the unusual comic minds of the Aardman studios family.

Let’s back up a moment, though. Let’s assume you’ve never seen a Wallace & Gromit short. Although there’s definitely a passionate cult following, it’s not like these characters have ever really broken through and dominated the mainstream. My wife had never even heard of them until I got the DVD that Dreamworks put out a few weeks ago, and the cover really didn’t make her eager to dive in and see what I was so excited about. I did end up showing her THE WRONG TROUSERS the night before we went to see the film, and she liked it well enough. I think the quintessential Englishness of it all sort of baffled her, though. The important question for Dreamworks is how well the film will play to the uninitiated.

The all-media was last Saturday morning at 10:00 in Westwood, and the place was packed with families. There was such amazing energy in that place by the time the film ended that I think it’s safe to say you don’t need any introduction to these characters except what you’ll see in the film, and it works for adults and children in equal measure. It’s remarkably sophisticated writing for a kid’s film, but that’s probably because Nick Park and his co-writers Bob Baker, Steve Box, and Mark Burton aim different jokes at different members of the audience, making sure to keep them coming fast and furious so that no one ever has a chance to disengage. I’ve hammered other films and TV shows in the past for being non-stop pop culture references (SHREK and FAMILY GUY spring to mind), and WALLACE & GROMIT is a good example of the difference between using those sorts of references as a crutch to disguise the fact that you don’t really have anything to say and using them to add a bit of texture to something that already works completely on its own merits. Yes, you can point at moments in this film and play the “name that reference” game, but everything always comes back to the characters and your investment in them, which is the way it has to be if your film’s going to endure at all.

Peter Sallis returns as the voice of Wallace, and he continues his exemplary work from the short films. There’s such a sweet eccentricity to his performance that you can’t really describe it to anyone. He’s done a lot of live-action work over the years, but I couldn’t tell you what he looks like. I think I prefer just knowing him as the voice of Wallace, because it makes the character more special, more unique.

There are some movie star voices in this film, but they blend in quite nicely. Ralph Fiennes cuts loose as Victor Quartermaine, the bad guy of the film, in a way that we never see him do in live-action, and Helena Bonham-Carter is much more colorful here than in CORPSE BRIDE as Lady Tottingham, a perfect romantic possibility for Wallace. Neither one of them overpowers the film, thankfully, and as a result, these characters fit perfectly into the ongoing world that the short films already established. That’s one of the things I love about W&G films... every time, we get new supporting characters who fill out the world in different ways. There was the vending machine robot with dreams of skiing in the first film, Feathers McGraw in THE WRONG TROUSERS, Wendolene and Shaun the Sheep in A CLOSE SHAVE. I think people are going to fall in love with Hutch the Rabbit this time, and there’s also the Were-Rabbit, a rich comic creation that really pays off.

The story is simple enough. Lady Tottingham’s family has hosted a Giant Vegetable competition once a year for generations, and the day is approaching for the latest one. All the locals have enlisted the services of Wallace and Gromit, who run a humane pest control service. They catch and keep all the rabbits who threaten the local gardens, and there are some great jokes early on as they try to manage the huge number of rabbits in their home. When Wallace gets the idea to try a brand-new brain control device as a way of programming the rabbits to not like vegetables, things kick into high gear, and circumstances quickly, hilariously, spiral out of control.

I’m reluctant to go into what it was that delighted me so much, since a lot of the charm of the film comes in the ways it tackles your funnybone from unexpected angles. Some of the jokes are adult, but in a way that’s charming rather than dirty. And anyone worried that the film would wallow in potty humor based on the one belch in the trailer shouldn’t worry. That’s the one big bodily function joke, and it’s followed by a line of dialogue that spins it ina whole different way. Technically, the film is gorgeous, and for fans of stop-motion’s history, you’ll be pleased to see the occasional fingerprint show up on the characters, reminiscent of the way Kong’s fur looked in the ’33 original. It’s a charming reminder that these films are, indeed, hand-crafted.

I can’t really call this one of the year’s big surprises, since Nick Park has been so consistent in crafting these films so far, but I am relieved to see how right he got it. It’s a delight from beginning to end, and you should stay all the way through the credits for one of the funniest little easter egg jokes I’ve seen in a while. Great stuff. Highly, highly recommended.

Gotta get busy on all my other overdue articles, so until then...

"Moriarty" out.

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