Wallace and Gromit: Heroes who save the clay

Fans of Wallace and Gromit, clay companions created by Nick Park and Aardman Animations (“Chicken Run”), have waited 10 years to see the British duo again and for the most part, it’s worth the wait.

The first three Wallace and Gromit movies were shorts; “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” is the first full-length.

“I’m always looking with Wallace and Gromit, looking for something a bit absurd,” Park said told The Hatchet in an interview.

In previous films, Wallace (Peter Sallis), an addlebrained inventor, and his clever dog Gromit have confronted a penguin burglar, cracked a sheep-rustling ring, and gone to the moon. This time around, they’re working as Anti-Pesto, a humane pest-control company (they keep their catches in their basement). A giant vegetable competition is on the horizon, and Anti-Pesto patrols the neighborhood for plant-hungry rabbits.

Business is good until a giant “were-rabbit” appears, ravaging prize carrots and squash. The task of killing the evil beast falls on Anti-Pesto. Wallace develops an interest in Lady Tottington, (Helena Bonham Carter) the competition’s sensitive hostess. His rival, in both love and rabbit-catching, is the piggish Lord Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes, “The Constant Gardener”), who wants to just shoot the beast.

“It seemed a great idea,” Park said, “rather than a werewolf, which would be rather grim, eating people, to make it about a rabbit that actually just eats vegetables, but people treat the vegetables like their own children.”

The movie is filled with horror movie references, from Hammer to Hitchcock. But Park twists those icons with dry wit. A bale of cotton candy bounces across the screen at the climactic festival. When the townspeople meet to discuss the were-rabbit, ominous music plays. Then, the priest turns to an old woman at an organ and tells her to knock it off. “Insane,” he says, rolling his eyes.

“The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” doesn’t quite reach the comic heights of the short films. Park recognizes the challenge a longer movie entails.

“”You’ve got to get your story structure right, highs and lows, all the character arcs, all the resolutions,” he said.

The story is, necessarily, more straightforward than in the wacky shorts, and the film drags a little here and there. But it’s still more original and more entertaining than any Hollywood animated product.

That comparison is actually a bit unfair. Park made this movie for DreamWorks as well as Aardman, his own independent studio. He said the big company didn’t have much influence.

“With Wallace and Gromit, I have to stick with my instincts,” he said. “It’s what makes me laugh.”

In an era of slick computer animation, the use of clay (the movie took five years to make) inspires admiration and nostalgia.

“When you see fingerprints, you connect with it, because you know how it’s done,” Park said. “Everyone played with clay.”

But no one else does anything nearly so enjoyable with it.

“The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” will arrive in theaters on Oct. 7.

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