Academy Award Winner:
Best Animated Feature Film
Preface: The following introduction repeats the bulk of my theatrical review for Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Sixteen years after their debut adventure, A Grand Day Out (1989), the lovable team of Wallace and Gromit finally made their feature film debut with The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). Even with only three half-hour "episodes" and a handful of other shorts under their belts, the duo's transition to the big screen proved to be incredibly smooth. This is, of course, due to the talents of the creative team: co-directed by Nick Park (creator) and Steve Box (key animator on both The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995), The Curse of the Were-Rabbit features the same detailed stop-motion animation style as in episodes past, proving 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 very 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 are also very 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 a larger space 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. With voices by the legendary Peter Sallis (who's in his mid-80's at this point), Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter and more, it's a fine adventure worth getting lost in.
There's more good news in store for W&G fans: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is perhaps even more fun on DVD, if that's possible. Sharp-eyed viewers with their fingers on the "pause" button may spot a few old friends, though I still couldn't find Shaun the Sheep anywhere (not surprising, since he's undoubtedly hard at work on the upcoming "Fleeced" board game). While it's great to see Aardman's keep things fresh and new, fans of the original shorts should still feel right at home. In more ways than one, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is perhaps Wallace and Gromit's most enjoyable outing yet.
The DVD presentation by Dreamworks is very well rounded, and while many fans were upset that this Region 1 release doesn't have as many goodies as the 2-disc UK counterpart, this is still a solid package from top to bottom (NOTE: According to several online sources, an exclusive bonus disc of extra material is available when this DVD is purchased at Wal-Mart, of all places). Either way, it's pretty tough to be disappointed when such a terrific film is paired with an impressive technical presentation and a nice pile of bonus features. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Presented in its original 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, Curse of the Were-Rabbit looks exceptional on DVD. Colors and image detail are strong, while digital problems (such as edge enhancement) are virtually non-existent. Though the bulk of the bonus features aren't presented in anamorphic widescreen---sadly, still a common problem with most DVDs, mainstream or otherwise---this is a solid visual presentation that won't disappoint.
The audio presentation is also very impressive from start to finish, as this 5.1 Surround Sound mix includes moderate rear channel use and a lively atmosphere. The varying types and degrees of British accents can make the dialogue hard to distinguish during a few scenes, so it's nice to see optional English subtitles on board (trust me, you'll probably need 'em!). Also included here is a French 5.1 mix, as well as English and Spanish 2.0 tracks for the surround impaired.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Featuring fun, simple designs based around the film's events, these menus (seen above) are as visually appealing as they are easy to navigate. This 86-minute film has been divided into roughly 20 chapters, while a well-placed layer change was detected soon after the halfway mark. The packaging is very straightforward but attractive, as this one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase with no chapter insert (though my screener copy may vary slightly from the official release).
Up first is a full-length Cracking Commentary with co-writers and co-directors Nick Park and Steve Box, who offer a laid-back but entertaining track filled with plenty of creative insight and interesting tidbits. Most commentaries with less than three or four participants often have their share of silent gaps, but Park and Box are quite talkative throughout. Also here is a selection of nineteen Deleted Scenes (13:11, with optional commentary) in various stages of completion; while most are quite short, they're still worth watching for fans of the film. Next up is a fun featurette called How Wallace and Gromit Went To Hollywood (20:22, below left), a lively piece about the dynamic duo's history. Though it won't be anything new for ardent W&G fans, it's still nice to have on board.
There's also another pair of featurettes on board, including Behind the Scenes (13:01) and A Day in the Life at Aardman (8:25); the first is a fairly standard effort, while the second is an interesting tour of the animation studio. Next up is How to Build a Bunny (3:30), a brief look at Aardman's rabbit production, as well as an interesting 1997 short film from Steve Box, Stagefright (11:07, with optional commentary). Winding things down is a series of Image Galleries (dubbed "The Family Album"), including a nice look at the film's storyboards (above right). Hidden in the "Dreamworks Kids" section are a trio of Cracking Contraptions shorts (NOTE: the other seven are available in Three Amazing Adventures as well as the Wal-Mart bonus disc), plus a few Games & Activities and Previews for other Dreamworks DVDs. All in all, it's a satisfying blend of extras that fans will really enjoy.
Though anyone new to the world of Wallace and Gromit might be better off seeing the Holy Trilogy of short adventures first (including A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave), anyone with a soft spot for animation and great comedy should have no trouble enjoying Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It's simply one of the best films of 2005, while the DVD package from Dreamworks is nearly as impressive in every category. Though fans of the film have undoubtedly scooped this disc up already, it's never too late to sing the praises of such a well-rounded and entertaining effort. Very Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an art instructor & office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. He also thoroughly enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.