Claymation characters hit the silver screen

by Beacon Staff • October 5, 2005

Director Nick Park is a true British gentleman. Mild-mannered and soft-spoken, he has a firm handshake and a sweet smile. Halfway through discussing his latest film, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, in a recent interview with The Beacon, he looked up eagerly when his assistant walked into the room. After seeing the steaming cup in her hand, he muttered "Oh, thank goodness" and apologized for stopping the interview for a quick sip.

Milk and sugar. That's how Park takes his tea-fitting for the creator of the beloved and sweet animated characters Wallace and Gromit. Favorites of television audiences worldwide (aired in America on PBS and the Cartoon Network), the duo will soon be making their big-screen debut in cinemas across America. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit will open tomorrow in the pair's typical style, complete with adventures, inventions and plenty of cheese.

The characters, an accident-prone inventor with a fetish for cheese named Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and his faithful pet dog, Gromit, are the result of a graduate project of Park's while he was attending school in London in the 1980s. He said he was inspired by the idea of a man building inventions in the basement of his house and decided the man needed a sidekick. Three short films and three Oscars later, Wallace and Gromit are heading to Hollywood for their foray into feature-length film.

An endearing and appealing film, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit tells the story of Wallace and Gromit's humane pest control business, "Anti-Pesto." Responsible for ridding the neighborhood of the rabbits that threaten the health of the residents' prized gardens, Anti-Pesto is especially important in the weeks before the annual Giant Vegetable Competition, which is the social event of the season that everyone is feverishly preparing for.

This influx of rabbits causes Lady Tottingham (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) to call Anti-Pesto for help. Despite the repeated offers of Lord Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes) to shoot the rabbits, she prefers a more humane approach.

Wallace believes he can cure the problem by simply altering the rabbits' minds so they no longer love vegetables. The procedure goes haywire, however, and the peaceful town becomes threatened by the enormous and dangerous "Were-Rabbit."

Park said the idea for the story came to him while he was sitting in a pub in London. He was looking for a new type of film to parody with Wallace and Gromit, having already spoofed several genres with his short films A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave. Intrigued by the horror films of the 1930s, Park said he decided on the Were-Rabbit as a suitable villain.

While attempting to battle this villain, Wallace is such a bumbling fool that it is impossible not to support him in his crazy endeavors. Gromit, as the faithful sidekick and the real brains of the situation, constantly saving Wallace from harm, manages to convey a great deal to the audience without uttering a word or a bark with his enormous, expressive eyes.

Moreover, both Carter and Fiennes are both brilliant in vocalizing their roles, bringing humor to the absurd story with their extreme accents and exaggerated acting.

Park said he was thrilled to work with Fiennes and Carter on the film and he especially enjoyed exploring their talents as comedic actors.

"I was just amazed to be able to go to actors of that caliber," he said. "There they are, these classical A-list British actors, and we asked them to play around and goof it up. We wanted to ask them to do things that no one else had in films."

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is lighthearted and laughable, filled with slapstick comedy, cultural references and spoofs. Illustrating Wallace's love for cheese, his bookshelf holds the novels "Fromage to Eternity" and "Grated Expectations." This humor is also shown when the local priest douses his garden with holy water in hopes of winning the giant vegetable competition, demonstrating the obsession the town has with its crops. While the Were-Rabbit pillages the town, typical horror clich