The theatrical release of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit clearly prompted this repackaging of the first three half-hour featurettes from Nick Park and the Aardman company. Now that the filmmakers have already had a hit movie in Chicken Run a few seasons back, Dreamworks has licensed the bundle with some new extras, including ten mini-movies said not to have been seen in America before.
A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave are all solid crowd pleasers and wonderful examples of fine animation, endearing characters and clever storytelling. Human inventor Wallace and his silent but savvy dog Gromit live a slightly grimy but amusing life in their old neighborhood house, along with many rather silly inventions to keep them busy. Wallace is a dotty Englishman lacking in common sense, and his dog Gromit takes on the thankless job of pulling them out of scapes through ingenuity and perseverance. The humor is deadpan and Wallace's dialogue is full of Brit colloquialisms like "Cracking good toast, Gromit!" and "We're for it now!" He's as spirited and good natured as he is thick-headed, and the two don't so much as communicate as co-exist. The comedy team that most closely resembles them are Laurel & Hardy --- Wallace and Gromit generate the same kind of warmth.
Detailing the three older adventures is a bad idea, just because they're so much fun to discover on one's own. A Grand Day Out has the pair building their own rocket to the moon, with the object of finding a good resource for cheese. In The Wrong Trousers Gromit's place in the home is usurped by a conniving penguin that steals Wallace's oddball mechanical walking machine to pull off a jewel robbery. A Close Shave tangles the pair with a kind shoplady --- and a lot of sheep.
As stand-alone creations the three films are consistently funny but also create the kind of warmth that puts a permanent smile on one's face. Wallace and Gromit live in a stop-motion world of clever miniatures. Much of the character animation is done by hand in plasticine, with a fine attention to detail. The craft and artisanship in the Aardman world is soothing in itself, and when Nick Park warps the landscape into a noirish mode for a jewel heist, or creates his own fanciful version of the surface of the moon, we're charmed.
There is a short but pleasing list of extras on the disc. A behind the scenes look at the new Were-Rabbit movie is a fairly pleasing featurette. But there's also a sizeable extra - ten short subjects ranging from 90 seconds to three minutes or so called Cracking Contraptions, all self-contained blackout sketches involving Wallace and Gromit and a new foolish invention. A few are on the obvious side ( a cooking machine that dumps scrambled eggs on Gromit's head) but others are cute and develop real laughs -- a super football-kicking machine, a robot to do the shopping. One blackout about building snowmen is almost perfect.
Those extra shorts may be enough of a temptation for owners of an earlier BBC Video/CBS Fox disc release to go for a re-purchase. The older disc has a different set of older extras and TV special exerpts. Quality-wise both discs look about the same, with excellent color and picture quality in the 1:33 flat-frame format. And Wallace and Gromit aren't the kind of house guests that wear out their welcome.
October 23, 2005