Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

2005-10-05 (Limited release)

Cute but not aggravating. Witty but not arrogant. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a clever send-up of classic horror movies (of 1930s-’40s sort, including Wolfman and Frankenstein). It’s also an entertaining assembly of wordplay and visual gags, and even a bit of an insightful character study. The movie reportedly took five years to make, as Nick Park and Steve Box and a crew of hundreds posed each clay figure frame by frame.

This labor of apparent love opens on a wee-hours alarm that gets Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and Gromit (the dog who does not talk, but whose face speaks proverbial and often plaintive volumes) out of their snuggly beds in a hurry. Wallace runs a rodent-evacuation company called Anti-Pesto, always backed by the ever loyal Gromit, of course. Each night, they are awakened by a Rube-Golbergian series of gadgets and wheels and levers that signal the arrival of a culprit, usually a furry little creature who’s got his heart set on some human’s vegetable garden.

Anti-Pesto is a booming business, as it is soon revealed that such pests abound in the neighborhood. Though their clients encourage them to give the outlaws “what they deserve,” it turns out that Wallace sees this process of justice a bit differently. He takes the creatures home with him, cages them up in crates in his basement, and makes sure they are supplied with all the carrots and lettuce them might desire. Though Gromit believes that Wallace himself ought to gnoshing on some of these vegetables, Wallace is fine with eating cheese, his very favorite foodstuff.

Their animal-capturing devices, invented by the tirelessly imaginative and self-congratulatory Wallace, are ingenious. Among their most effective is the BUNVAC 6000, which sucks up rabbits from beneath the ground into a large, clear-walled jar, to be wheeled away to safety (the quickly crowding basement). And this is precisely the machine that Wallace pulls out to impress Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), whom he soon perceives as a kindred spirit. That is, she also loves “all things fluffy” and doesn’t want the mad infestation on her estate t be harmed, just moved. When Wallace and Gromit arrive at the Tottington Hall to perform the suckage, the Lady is just thrilled, as the bunnies look so cute and weightless in the jar, their adorable buck teeth, long ears, and ginormous eyes on full, can’t-resist-’em display.

Alas, Lady Tottington is also being courted by the covetous, egregiously hair-pieced Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), who believes that bunnies and like creatures shot be shot, and he has the oversized hunting rifle to prove it. Briefly unnerved by the BUNVAC 6000’s vacuuming up of his hair piece (Victor: “My hair is in there”; Wallace: “Oh, no, only rabbits in there. I think you’ll find the hare is a much larger creature”), he pledges to show up Wallace and ensure that Lady T’s fortune will be his, and not end up in the hands of this commoner.

And so the class war is on, which only enhances the monster-movie themes that Were-Rabbit explores. In a further effort to please his new object of desire, Wallace comes up with a machine that will reprogram the bunnies so they won’t desire veggies, leading to an experiment that goes awry. Soon enough, a giant were-rabbit is stomping through the town at night, ravaging the squashes and pumpkins, and threatening to shut down Tottington Hall’s annual Giant Vegetable Competition. Wallace and Gromit are immediately on the case, but so is Victor (and he’s encouraged by townies who believe the creature must be killed).

At last, Gromit discovers a difficult truth, which means he has to figure out his own surprising, extraordinary course of action. That it is left to the dog, so intelligent, so generous, and so very very stoic, to smooth out the humans’ mess, is appropriate. This because the humans’ silly rituals and constant worries about status and size eventually give way to the film’s underlying point, the cherishing of all life, and not just the lives that can afford expensive outfits.

Such lesson learning, however valuable, is not so much fun as Park and Box’s elaborate, brisk, and roundabout route to same. Wallace and Gromit, no doubt, share an endearing, peculiar rhythm — physical as well as verbal (the latter all on Wallace’s part, with Gromit providing perfectly timed sighs and eye-rolls) — sustained even in moments of crisis. They’re friends till the end, and all that, but more interestingly, they’re so perfectly like and unlike like one another, so suited with regard to needs and abilities, that you never really worry for their breakup, only wonder how they’ll get around the current bump. Even when Lady T threatens to intervene, if not by her own accord but by dint of Wallace’s romantic yearnings, she seems able to fit in well enough, and appreciates Gromit in a way that warms his cockles as well as yours.