[Screen It]

(2005) (voices of Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter) (G)

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Animated Comedy: In their efforts to control a problem with rabbits, a proper English inventor and his faithful dog unwittingly create a bunny-based monster that then terrorizes the local community.
In a quaint British town, inventor Wallace (voice of PETER SALLIS) and his faithful dog Gromit lead a happy existence, although Wallace certainly wishes he could eat more cheese, but his silent yet expressive dog tries to keep him from doing so. Their latest enterprise is Anti-Pesto, a humane pest control service that's found a great deal of business due to the town being overwhelmed by rabbits.

And with the eagerly anticipated Giant Vegetable Competition approaching, the townsfolk couldn't be happier that the duo is hard at work. That includes wealthy socialite Lady Tottington (voice of HELENA BONHAM CARTER) whose estate is literally hopping with bunnies, thus endangering her prized veggies she plans to enter into the competition.

Her snooty suitor, Lord Victor Quartermaine (voice of RALPH FIENNES), would just as soon shoot the bunnies, but Wallace has invented a giant vacuum system that sucks the rabbits from their burrows after which the pests are stored in the inventor's basement. Wallace has also created a lunar-powered brain manipulator device that he hopes will transform the bunnies into vegetable friendly beings. Unfortunately, things go terribly wrong during a test of the device, leaving Wallace with increasing rabbit traits and a test bunny with the apparent tendency to metamorphose into the giant and ravenous, veggie consuming Were-Rabbit.

With Wallace otherwise incapacitated by his new state and the gargantuan bunny now on the loose and eating up the townsfolk's veggies, it's up to Gromit to save the day and all of the vegetables as the Giant Vegetable Competition arrives.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
I'll have to admit that I'm not a big fan of clay. Pots made of it seem to break easily in my possession; the soil where I live is thick with the stuff, thus making digging a hole with anything short of dynamite a challenge; and my childhood models made out of the sticky, earthy material never quite met my artistic aspirations.

Thanks goodness Nick Park doesn't feel the same way. In fact, I can imagine he loves the stuff, especially since it's made him famous and particularly considering how much time he apparently spends with it day in and day out. You see, Park has used the material over the years -- in a process once known as Claymation -- to create one of the more charming, witty and enjoyable worlds known to kids and cool, in-the-know adults.

Yes, I'm talking about Wallace & Gromit, the human and canine co-stars of a series of fabulously entertaining and award-winning animated shorts such as "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave." Now, after all of these years, the quintessential British comedy duo gets their feature length, big screen due with "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit."

Like any stop-motion animation such as the recently released "Corpse Bride" as well as the original version of "King Kong," Park's work is an intensive labor of love where clay models are moved fractions of an inch at a time, photographed, moved again and so on, far too many times to count individually. Projected in order, they recreate the semblance of motion and lively characters.

The result, much like Tim Burton's pic, is a visual delight, a world unlike any other on film. While the characters retain their crude but utterly charming appearance, Park and co-director Steve Box manage to do some amazing stuff with the otherwise inanimate clay. In fact, it's so good that you'll forget you're watching animated earthen material as you get sucked in by the visuals and some rather elaborately staged action set pieces.

Thankfully, and wisely on the part of the filmmakers, the film is so much more than detailed visuals and lots of painstaking and what I can only imagine must be back-breaking labor. Working from a script by Mark Burton and Bob Baker, Park and Box lovingly and joyously bring back all of the fine character details and unique relationship between the lead characters that have won over fans worldwide. These two lovable characters deserve to be right up there with the likes of Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello for their funny ways and interaction with one another.

Wallace -- terrifically voice by Peter Sallis -- is the daffy but always cheerful inventor who usually gets the duo in some sort of pickle, with Gromit having to get them out of it. The pooch doesn't talk -- in fact, I don't think he even has a mouth -- but he speaks volumes with a series of comedic facial expressions (my favorite is the stony-faced deadpan reaction to any number of Wallace's words or actions) that are, as a certain credit card company likes to say, priceless.

While not even in the same comedy league, the presence of the characters Lady Tottington -- voiced by Helena Bonham Carter -- and Lord Victor Quartermaine -- courtesy of Ralph Fiennes -- are decent and necessary plot additions to the fold, but I could watch the main characters all by themselves and be quite pleased to be in their brilliant presence.

And rather than ignore them in lieu of the big screen trappings and elongated format, the filmmakers have made sure that all of the fine details and Rube Goldbergeseque contraptions -- such as the series of contrivances of getting Wallace out of bed and to the breakfast table in one fell swoop -- are still present. A few new ones are what lead to the main plot thrust which, as the title would suggest, is a play on the old werewolf tales.

In fact, the writers have obviously had a blast sticking in many references and parody bits about all sorts of classic movie monsters, as well as many other types of films -- one of the more notable being a satire of "A Clockwork Orange" and its counter programming efforts. There's so much of that in the dialogue, actions and various visuals that the film practically necessitates a second viewing to make sure you catch all of them.

With jokes, puns and visual references to "King Kong," "Ghostbusters," "Frankenstein" and a slew of other films, this animated offering is a delight from start to finish, with plenty to entertain and even thrill children and adults alike. In fact, it's so good that I may just have to reconsider my stance on that sticky, thick substance out beneath my backyard. It's just too bad that when I dig out there I don't discover a world as fun and funny as "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." The highly entertaining film rates as an 8 out of 10.

Reviewed September 6, 2005 / Posted October 7, 2005

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