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15 Years Later: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

14 October 20 words: Alex Mace

15 years later, contributor Alex Mace is still crackers about the feature-length Wallace and Gromit film...

Directors: Nick Park and Steve Box
Starring: Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter
Running time: 85 minutes

You could say quintessential pieces of British culture are limited to Rich Tea biscuits, cricket, queuing and the Queen (for better or worse) - but I reckon we’ve got room to fit good ol’ Wallace and Gromit in there somewhere. Since 1989, the talismanic duo of charming crackpot inventor and suspiciously aware mutt have graced our screens in all their plasticine stop-motion splendour and have quickly become the face of well-executed silliness. The wonderfully simplistic pairing of man and his best friend saw a legendary run of short films running through to the mid-nineties - with The Wrong Trousers remaining as some of director Nick Park’s finest work - but it wouldn’t be until 2005 that Aardman Animations broke the (clay) mould and delivered Wallace and Gromit’s first feature-length film: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. 15 years on - with cheese in hand - it’s high time it had a well-deserved celebration.

I’m going to get the nerdy stuff out the way first but don’t panic I’ll keep things brie-f (took me a few hours to think of that one). On a more serious note, Curse of the Were-Rabbit (COTWR for convenience sake), and its claymation aesthetic, in particular, have aged like a fine wine. The fluid and satisfying mobility of it all, the hints of fingerprint blemishing on clay surfaces, the studio light reflections on Gromit’s nose and even the finer dents and scratches on Wallace’s ‘Anti-Pesto’ van bring the sprawling miniature of suburban Wigan to life. Considering COTWR reared its head the same year as Son of the Mask...well, I don’t think I even need to finish that comparison. 

At its core, COTWR is a straight-forward adventure/mystery family film with Aardman doing as they do best and plucking parallels from some of film’s more renowned archive entries. For the kids, it’s an amusing animated flick with plenty of slapstick and the odd played-up thrills along the way, but for the adults, it’s easy to see COTWR as a clay-baked love letter to The Fly and any number of classic Hammer Horror films that gives the worn-in monster film formula a fresh spin. The film keeps its plot fairly simple. As ever, Wallace becomes the victim of his own genius and it’s up to the ever-face-palming Gromit to save the day.

In this case, the duo have become local heroes under the guise of ‘Anti-Pesto’, using Wallace’s contraptions to rid the veg-obsessed town folk of the strangely abundant rabbits. After “a harmless bit of brain alteration”, Wallace ends up creating the film’s titular creature (I won’t spoil the details for the unconverted, but shame on you if you’ve not seen it yet) and the film’s remaining runtime is spent in effort to stop the beast from ruining the annual vegetable competition whilst avoiding the barrel of the film’s ‘villain’; Victor Quartermaine.

The relentless barrage of visual humour, slapstick and general bizzareness still lands as strongly as it did, if not with greater oomph thanks to the unearthing of countless double-entendres

With a tight story, a world of visual awe to dive into and innumerable visual jokes and references hidden behind every frame (pay close attention to the Latin names in the Reverand’s book), Aardman had already fashioned a solid playground for their plasticine populi to assume their roles and - to avoid baricating about the bush - it’s the townsfolk that really give the film it’s flair. With an average age of ‘retired’, a rich history of being attacked by comically-sized animals - as explored astutely by that one hunchbacked guy - and a hive-mind mentality that capriciously switches between penchants for either growing vegetables or forming an angry mob; the nameless townsfolk alone provide dozens of good laughs. Those with more words to their scripts like, Mrs Mulch or PC Mackintosh, are both delightfully stereotypical in this fittingly exaggerated world with the frail and paranoid form of Reverend Clement Hedges (played flawlessly by Nicholas Smith) being the pinnacle of the film’s endless well of likeable side-characters.

Our leads prove to be no different and, with a decade and a half of life behind them, remain the studio’s most charismatic line-up to date. The original pair haven’t really changed a bit. Wallace’s paradoxical mix of avid genius and innocent idiot remains as charming as it did in the nineties whilst Gromit’s variegated shades of silence provide the perfect relatable shell for viewers to project themselves atop. It’s a beautiful work of chemistry and it justifies the two having their own Facebook group - of which I am a proud member of - and explains why owning a ‘Gromit Mug’ is somehow a thing of legend. On the other side of the coin we find Lord Victor Quartermaine, or in other words, Ralph Phineas’ best performance (I will fight you on this). Trailed by his equally malicious canine, Phillip, Quartermaine is the knives edge on this otherwise cheerful wedge of gorgonzola. Desperate to steal Lady Tottington’s heart and triumph in the love triangle that Wallace barely realises he’s in, Quartermaine’s slow transformation from cocky love-rival to bloodthirsty hunter is as comically horrifying as the Were-Rabbit itself in a manner only Aardman could pull off. 

Perhaps it’s the rosy tint of nostalgia that remains from five-year-old Alex’s first viewing, but I really have no complaints about this film. 15 years on and the relentless barrage of visual humour, slapstick and general bizzareness still lands as strongly as it did - if not with greater oomph thanks to the unearthing of countless double-entendres - whilst the characters resonate with the same love of the meticulous hands that shaped them. Triple the length of any prior outing for man and his dog (running out ways to refer to them now), COTWR is arguably the most complete experience any Wallace and Gromit fan can have that doesn’t involve a film marathon with five types of cheese board and a cup of tea gently brewing away in your very own Gromit mug. Simply put, whichever way you look at it, Wallace and Gromit should be a part of British culture and this film is a perfect example as to why. 

Did you know? American audiences had difficulty understanding some of the dialogue in the film following test screenings, so director Nick Park and the crew made the decision to tone down the British accents prior to its release.

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