[30 April 2012]
Wallace & Gromit’s stop-motion-driven adventures have featured crazy contraptions of all kinds over the years, so it was only natural that they were the perfect choice to host a BBC TV series about real-world inventions. Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention features six 30-minute episodes, each of which opens with our heroes involved in yet another scheme that has gone haywire. For example, in the first installment, Wallace has created a power generator that relies on an elephant with a mind of its own.
As the situation becomes dicey, Wallace hands off the show to actress Ashley Jensen, who narrates live-action pieces centered around a specific theme. In the first installment, the theme is “nature knows best”, so we’re treated to robots inspired by manta rays and a look at how examinations of termite mounds are informing the creation of self-cooling houses.
During each episode, Jensen briefly hands off her hosting duties to science correspondent Jem Stansfield, who covers the “It Never Got Off the Drawing Board” segment. In the first episode, that segment covers artificial gills; one later in the series looks at a refrigerator designed by Einstein.
Between the host segments, Wallace checks back in with the latest update on his current situation, which comes to a climax by the end, and not always in a good way. Eagle-eyed fans will notice references to his past adventures, such as the rocket ship from Grand Day Out.
Subsequent installments in the series center around other themes, such as flight or household inventions. For example, the flight episode looks at homemade space rockets, a guy who built his own jetpack, NASA’s work on cutting-edge spacesuits, and the top six flying failures.
After watching the series, it occurred to me that the episodes could have been just as easily produced without Wallace & Gromit’s involvement, with the same effect. However, including the characters increased the likelihood the episodes would be watched—and thus their subject matter disseminated more widely—by children.
However, while my nine-year-old daughter enjoyed the entirety of each episode, my four-year-old son quickly grew bored with the live-action segments, so be aware that this is a series geared more toward grade school age children. I can see elementary schools showing some of these episodes as a way to get kids more interested in science. After all, Wallace & Gromit’s influence helped stop the real Wensleydale cheese manufacturer from going out of business, so perhaps they can help nudge attitudes toward science in a sane direction once more, after so many years of attacks by creationists and others.
The lone bonus feature on this Blu-ray is a series of six DIY projects. I admit I didn’t try any of them myself, but I may someday. Too bad there was no making-of material. I would have liked to hear from Peter Sallis, who reprised his role of Wallace, which he has handled since the beginning. What does he think about the character’s new venture?
I would have also liked to hear from the folks at Aardman and the BBC regarding their collaboration and how they approached it. As the caretakers of Wallace & Gromit’s legacy, I’m sure someone at Aardman had some thoughts to share, even if Nick Park, who created the characters, was too busy to participate. After all, not only have the Wallace & Gromit shorts, along with the lone movie, featured all kinds of Rube Goldberg-esque devices, but in 2002, Aardman produced Wallace & Gromit’s Cracking Contraptions, a series of ten animated shorts that run one to three minutes each and which center on nothing but Wallace’s latest inventions.
Given that legacy, it’s a shame nothing more was included in the bonus features section. After all, Blu-rays promise us much more room per platter for all kinds of fun stuff, so why not fill it up? I’m sure Wallace would want that.