Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

So we watched The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and, during the climax, my wife got off the sofa and sat elsewhere. “When you write this one,” she instructed, “make sure that you note that our son loved it so much that he kicked his mother in the head.” This I now do.

Thank heaven we didn’t see this one in a theater. The kid laughed and exploded so much over it that he thrashed and danced and punched the air and, indeed, kicked furiously. We don’t get in his way when he needs to hide from anything scary, and nor do we discourage his animated happiness, but we do chide him when he gets restless and can’t keep still. It’s never occurred to us before that we might want to tell him to calm down the happy dancing and laughing. It’s just so infectious that it’s never been an issue before! Then again, he’s getting bigger every day.

I did, however, see this one in a theater and I know all about happy dancing there. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was Aardman’s second feature film, following 2000’s Chicken Run. It seemed to be a big success, but studios, with their strange way of accounting, sometimes see these things differently and Aardman’s partner, Dreamworks, said that it wasn’t. But it made tons of money and won an Oscar and had me unable to breathe from laughing with a quiet throwaway gag right in the middle that pays tribute to Watership Down, another movie about rabbits. I don’t remember much of anything after that.

The film was directed by Nick Park and Steve Box, with a script by Park, Box, Bob Baker and Have I Got News For You‘s Mark Burton. Joining Peter Sallis in the studio this time out are Helena Bonham Carter as Lady Tottington, Ralph Fiennes as a big game hunter, and a great ensemble including Geraldine McEwen, Mark Gatiss, and Peter Kay as villagers who thought their rabbit problem had been solved by our heroes before the movie opens… and then a giant were-rabbit stalks the night.

The movie is just packed with fun allusions to old movies while also referencing the previous three shorts, for the benefit of audiences (principally American, I’d imagine) who’d never seen them. Wallace’s morning routine with the trap door floor and clothes-putter-onner gets another outing, there’s a new Thunderbirds-style launch sequence for their pest control van, and the climax is another unlikely madcap chase that pretends like it’s obeying the laws of physics. The story is Frankenstein by way of that sort of only-in-movies folk horror which features a vicar who has seen the beast with his own eyes and has a forbidden book that tells how to destroy it. It’s a great and hilarious movie, and it’s not possible to watch it without smiling and laughing, but hopefully you can restrain yourself from kicking your mother in the head.

A Close Shave (1995)

I saw A Close Shave not too long after it was released and I never looked at it again until tonight. See, there’s this one bit that’s really, really funny. You know how nothing’s funny anymore when you watch it to death? I didn’t want that to happen here. I’d be fine forgetting absolutely everything about this story, which I did, just to preserve that laugh.

I’m not exaggerating. There’s not one thing about this movie that I remembered at all, beyond that there is a parody of the various Thunderbirds launch sequences and that there are some sheep in it.

When I first saw Wallace getting loaded into his motorcycle as the music swelled in a beautiful pastiche of Barry Gray’s orchestra, I almost passed out from laughing. So for almost two decades, I could say with honesty that was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. Sadly, it was finally eclipsed in late 2015, when – and I’m not kidding – I genuinely did black out watching Patton Oswalt do a bit about Lean Cuisine frozen dinners. Brain shut down from lack of oxygen I guess and I just went flumpf. Scared the heck out of my wife, that did.

Anyway, our son certainly enjoyed the launch sequence as well. He thought the whole film was terrific and was on his feet hooting and guffawing during the climax. He did not, however, connect the launch sequence as a Thunderbirds parody! I don’t quite understand how the six year-old mind works. He has seen Scott and Virgil Tracy launch Thunderbirds 1 and 2, across two series, conservatively, 200 times apiece over the last three years. He rewatched the most recent six episodes of Thunderbirds are Go just three days ago. He didn’t see the connection. He just thought it was the funniest motorcycle launch sequence ever.

I haven’t shown him Superthunderstingcar yet. (Note: That came eighteen months later.)

I guess A Close Shave is a pretty good movie to stand on its own like that. He says it’s his favorite of the three. I’m still a Wrong Trousers man myself. I’ll check back in 2038 and see what I think.

The Wrong Trousers (1993)

With no disrespect at all to Nick Park’s undeniable talent and skill as a director, I believe that the Wallace & Gromit franchise owes everything to the co-writer who began working with Aardman on this 1993 film. It’s Bob Baker, who had worked on nine Doctor Who serials in the seventies, along with credits on everything from cop shows to children’s serials. With Baker on board, there’s more structure and more happening around our heroes. They’re not in a vacuum like in the first film, and while it’s a perfectly charming vacuum for half an hour, the sense of scale and the larger environment in The Wrong Trousers makes for a far, far better movie.

I first saw this on WGTV one Friday evening in 1994 or 1995 and immediately made a pest out of myself to anybody who would listen. I must have shown the tape I made of this to three dozen people, and every single person burst a lung laughing over the model train climax. That happened again tonight. When Gromit grabbed that box of spare track, I thought my son was going to pop.

This might be my favorite overall Wallace and Gromit adventure. I’m not entirely sure, because I can’t honestly compare it to the next one. As I’ll explain one day next month, I’ve deliberately only watched A Close Shave just once and don’t remember much of anything about it. But Trousers rewards rewatching, particularly with a kid who’s old enough to read what’s on screen, and especially with a kid who absolutely loves building things. Wallace’s inventions and contraptions have him captivated even before the mayhem begins, and once that happens, he’s in heaven.

A Grand Day Out (1989)

Six is a very good age for a kid to meet Wallace and Gromit. A Grand Day Out is certainly the least of their adventures, but it still brings a smile to anybody’s face, and the little bit of slapstick that we see when our intrepid duo build their rocket had our son laughing out loud.

I saw the second film before this one, and have always been curious about Nick Park’s direction for the characters. The later productions feel more fully formed and confident, but that doesn’t mean that this one is lacking, or that it feels like he’s flexing his muscles. A Grand Day Out would have been a memorable and satisfying bit of whimsy, absolutely deserving of its accolades, if he’d never followed it up with more. It just suffers in comparison with how ridiculous and madcap their other adventures would be.

I like how the central silliness of the odd robot on the moon is never addressed. Who built this policeman – slash – janitor, and why does it require 10p coins to do anything? I love how it communicates with its arms, just as Gromit communicates with his eyebrow. It’s such genius to express all that character through body language when the bodies are so restricted. And of course, all the mice in Wallace’s cellar have sunglasses, which is lovely.

It’s a huge pleasure to reacquaint ourselves with these two. We’ll be watching a few more of their adventures over the next few months.