Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Nick Park (Chicken Run) can do more with a hunk of moldable plasticine than the whole of DreamWorks' animation department can do with state-of-the-art computers and a gazillion dollars at its disposal. So it's admirable that DreamWorks is behind the release of Park's second feature-length film, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), starring the cheese-loving inventor and his smarter, more laconic dog, who have appeared in four wildly popular shorts since their debut in "A Grand Day Out" in 1989. With their town's Giant Vegetable Festival mere days away, Wallace and Gromit's humane "Anti-Pesto" vermin-removal service is doing booming business until Wallace's ill-advised experiment with bunny brain alteration creates the titular beast. The ravenous rabbit goes on a veggie-munching rampage, leaving the pair to solve the mystery and save the festival. In every way, the film is a perfect expansion on Park's little clay world, offering everything from classic horror film references to Wallace's would-be romance with festival coordinator Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) to a shotgun-wielding villain, determined to kill the beast and win the lady fair (a suitably pompous Ralph Fiennes). It's a sublimely silly adventure, and Park's figures impart more genuine emotion than many human screen actors Gromit has the unenviable task of conveying thoughts without ever speaking, with his prodigious brow and round plastic eyes communicating curiosity, anger, pleasure and fear with the flawless élan of the screen's great silent comics. His lovable counterpart, the deliciously clueless and oh-so-British Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) is a genius inventor and, as in the short subjects, much of the fun here comes from his hilariously convoluted contraptions (one of the film's highlights is Wallace's "Bun-Vac 6000" vacuum that sucks rabbits out of their holes) and from the requisite chase scenes at which Park excels, including one with Gromit piloting an amusement park airplane. While the scale of the production is suitably larger given the scope of the story and includes some brilliantly conceived scale-model sets, the hand-crafted quality and absurd, gentle humor of Park's previous outings remains intact, offering romance, thrills, giggles and a subtly presented pro-animal message. Absurd, smart and suitable for every member of the family, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a ripping good yarn with just the right amount of delicious cheese. Dreamworks's DVD release is excellent, offering a beautiful anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with good Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in English and French, with optional English or Spanish subtitles), which does justice to Julian Nott's complex, orchestral score. Extras include a technically detailed commentary by Park and co-director Steve Box; a very good promotional behind-the-scenes featurette, best seen after the feature as it gives away huge swaths of plot (13 min.); "How Wallace and Gromit Went to Hollywood," a history of Aardman Animation from their first efforts through the 2005 fire that destroyed the studio with clips and sound bites from animators (20 min.); "How to Build a Bunny," on the creation of the adorable rabbits (3 min.); deleted scenes; "Stage Fright," a delightful Aardman short with optional commentary (11 min.); "A Day in the Life of Aardman" studio walkthrough (8 min.); a still and storyboard gallery; and DVD-ROM content, including games for kids. Keep-case.