Friday, August 14, 2009

Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit

For ages, Disney pretty much had a stranglehold on the animated family film market. No matter how good or bad something another studio put out was, it could never hope to get the level of public recognition as a Disney movie. Dreamworks finally broke through that barrier with its computer animated hit, Shrek, and has enjoyed success ever since... mostly. While its CGI efforts have have been rolling in money, Dreamworks' non-CGI cartoons have largely gone unseen by mass audiences. It's a shame because some of those movies represent the studio's best work, such as the Academy award winner for Best Animated Feature of 2005, Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit.

Wallace, an absent minded British inventor, and Gromit, his considerably more level headed pet dog, were previously the stars of a trio of award winning short films. It seemed logical that they were deserving of their own feature length film. The movie features them as a pair of humane exterminators, helping their neighbors protect their crops from rabbit infestations. Wallace gets the idea to use mind control on the local rabbit population to stop them from eating crops, but the invention he designs for the task doesn't work right and instead creates a giant were-rabbit that terrorizes the village (in a completely harmless family friendly way.)

There's a steady stream of humor, but unlike a lot of Dreamworks' other animated films, it's not centered around pop culture references or songs that were tearing up the European dance scene five years ago. Instead the filmmakers opted for a more vaudevillian/Looney Tunes style of humor. So, expect a fair amount of food being thrown in faces, muskets being fired and one instance of cross-species cross-dressing. (Hey, it worked for Bugs Bunny).

The great thing about that is it gives the movie a timeless feel. You could show this to somebody 50 years in the past or the future and they'd enjoy it on the same level as somebody today.

Granted the characters are all British, but the filmmakers were fully aware that this movie's largest audience would be stateside, so the accents aren't too thick. Of course with British characters, one can expect British humour. In addition to the slapstick, there's a fair amount of subtle jokes in the way of visual gags and word play.

If I had to guess why this movie didn't end up getting lots of public recognition, (though clearly it got the critics' attention) I'd say it was probably due to its release date and the marketing behind it. For one thing, it came out in October. This makes sense, seeing as how the whole giant monster rabbit lends itself to the Halloween market, but that's also a traditional dumping ground for movies the studio didn't think were good enough for the summer or holiday movie season.

Second, the characters don't exactly lend themselves to the marketing blitz usually associated with animated movies. This isn't an "event" movie that easily lends itself to action figures, children's bedspread sets and the usual merchandising gimmicks. (I hear Disney actually had a lot of the same problems when it came to promoting Up and Ratatouille.) It's a pretty small scale story that spoofs more epic movies without trying to be epic in scope itself.

Personally I'd recommend this movie for lots of people, and not just people with kids. It's great for anybody really just looking for an hour and a half of good clean slapstick fun. I mean, I like my comedy to be edgy and over the top too, but it's nice to see a comedy on occasion that isn't mean spirited.

If you do like this movie, you should also check out the other Wallace and Gromit shorts, A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, all of which are available in a single collection on DVD.

Image Courtesy of Dreamworks SKG and