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CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (article first published : 2005-12-31)

British movie-maker Nick Park, who gave us the clay-animated hit Chicken Run, returns with his first feature-length film to star his most famous creations - neurotic, cheese-loving inventor Wallace and his silent, faithful dog, Gromit - whose short film appearances led to two Oscars for Park.

For Wallace And Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Park shares directing credits with animator Steve Box and the two, over five years and with assistance from a 250-member crew, have delivered an enchanting animated romp that glitters with a clever script packed with sight gags, fun asides and nods to other movies.

Yorkshire-accented Wallace (the voice of Peter Sallis) and his taciturn pet pooch (forever quiet, his agile eyebrows doing all his communicating) are now in the pest-control business, their Anti-Pesto service proving hugely popular in the weeks leading up to their small town's annual Giant Vegetable Competition.

Particularly impressed with Wallace's invention, the Bunny-Vac, which humanely clears veggie patches of rabbits, is prize-winning gardener Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), to whom Wallace becomes smitten, much to the chagrin of her pompous fiancè, the gun-happy and conniving Victor Quatermaine (Ralph Fiennes).

However, Victor is not Wallace's only problem. His biggest dilemma is to invent something that will put an end to the sudden horror that is the were-rabbit, a giant bunny that starts to ruin veggie gardens and cause widespread panic.

It falls on Wallace and Gromit to find and capture the huge, horrible hopper. But as they race against time while the competition draws closer, and the townsfolk become increasingly perturbed, Gromit discovers a terrible truth about the new enemy.

This charming and imaginative family film is packed with good jokes and fun homage to other films, best among them being casual references to movies about rabbits. There's a dining-room scene, for instance, when Wallace turns to Gromit and asks "What's up, dog?", nudge-winking at Bug Bunny's most famous line.

And another memorable scene has Gromit turning on a car radio and going wide-eyed when he hears Art Garfunkel's Bright Eyes, theme song from Watership Down, the 1978 animated film about rabbits.

Other stand-out moments include a King Kong-inspired finale and a running gag which sees a mechanical contraption daily fitting Wallace with his clothing and depositing him from his dining-room table to his car.

Voice characterisations are spot-on, while the attention to detail in the Plasticine characters, miniature sets (30 in all) and props is top-notch in a film that wins a rating of 8/10.

For the record, according to the Internet Movie Database, each character needed several versions to cover a range of emotions and poses. There were 43 Gromits, 35 Wallaces, 16 Victors and 15 Lady Tottingtons, as well as 20 differently shaped mouths. A single line of dialogue of only a few words could take a whole day to animate.

Also, the movie reportedly required 2,8 tons of Plasticine in 42 colours and 1000 wet-wipes a week to wipe it off animators' fingers.

The film also contains a considerable amount of computer-animation, from drifting fog through to the bunnies in the Bun-Vac. In all, there are more than 700 shots that contain some kind of digital effects work. 8/10 – Billy Suter




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