Sixteen years after their debut adventure, A Grand Day Out (1989), the tag team of Wallace and Gromit have finally made their feature film debut with The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Even with only three half-hour "episodes" and a handful of other shorts under their belts, the duo's transition to the big screen is incredibly smooth. This is, of course, due to the talents of the creative team: it's co-directed by Nick Park (creator) and Steve Box (key animator on both The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995) and features the same excellent stop-motion animation style as in episodes past, proving the formula to be just as entertaining on a larger scale...if not more so.
It's easy to see right from the first frame that Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a special film. Infused with the same love and care that made the original W&G adventures so fun and accessible, the skill on display throughout this 85-minute film places it on par with the best efforts of Disney and Pixar. It's not often that a truly exceptional kid-friendly movie comes along, but it's a minor miracle when parents, older siblings and even grandparents can actually have a blast as well. Aardman's animation is fantastic as usual: it's simple enough to inspire future artists, but detailed enough to remind you that they're the one's you'll want to work for someday. There's also few, if any, cheap gags and pop culture references that will tarnish with age---unlike, say, Madagascar or Shrek---giving Curse of the Were-Rabbit a timeless quality on par with Toy Story or The Lion King.
The deceptively simple but fun story----a Halloween-friendly mystery with a bit of Beauty and the Beast-style romance and a generous helping of adventure---ensures that the pace remains fun and free-wheeling throughout. It's not as tightly compacted as, say, A Close Shave, but still has no problem filling out its total running time with energy to spare. The gags flow freely, the dialogue is distinctly British, there's about a thousand cute little bunnies...and, of course, one huge Were-Rabbit. He's terrorizing the locals as Lady Tottington's Giant Vegetable Competition approaches, threatening to stop the long-running annual event dead in its tracks. Our Heroes, of course, are one of two parties standing in the Were-Rabbit's way, having come to the town's rescue before as pest-controllers of the highest order (the other party is Victor Quartermain, a gun-loving rabbit hunter with his eyes on Lady Tottington). Featuring voices by the legendary Peter Sallis (who's in his mid-80's by now), Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter and more, it's a fine adventure worth getting lost in.
Poised to stand tall as the best family film of the year, Curse of the Were-Rabbit proves that more traditional forms of animation are still alive, kicking, and hunting enormous rabbits. The DVD is still a long ways off, but there's no doubt that it'll contain the same amount of care as the film itself (and hopefully a commentary or two). But don't let the theater blues get you down: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is certainly a film worth seeing on the big screen. It's big, it's entertaining, and it's rich in creativity; in short, everything that makes animation great. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable art instructor and gallery assistant based in Harrisburg, PA, who also enjoys freelance graphic design and illustration. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.