Though Wallace and Gromit, turophile inventor and canny canine, have only made four appearances in 16 years, the plasticine pair captures the dim-bright appeal of some classic British duos—Wooster and Jeeves, Watson and Holmes. Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) has technical ingenuity but lacks common sense; his mute, goal-oriented sidekick exists in a state of exasperation and melancholy, the only cure for which is a nail-biting bout of derring-do.
What creator Nick Park (no relation!), with the help of the Aardman Animations team, lacks in oeuvre output, he makes up in charming intricacy. A Grand Day Out (1989) is an elegantly austere fantasia in which man and dog voyage to the moon in search of cheese, simply because there’s none left in the house; the two brilliant follow-ups, The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995), keep things on earth while piling on additional critters, visual and verbal games, ever more elaborate chases, and dizzying devices of Rube Goldberg complexity. Amplifying the joys of this well-oiled machinery is time itself: It’s fitting that the glacial stop-motion animation process should result in the construction of a more handcrafted era, an ambience of free-floating nostalgia in which every detail—wallpaper, a knit-sweater pattern, a refrigerator logo—is half remembered before being enjoyed.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, co-directed by Park and Steve Box, happily extends the heroes’ small-scale allure to feature length. Once dedicated to cleaning windows with the assistance of bungee cords, Wallace and Gromit have now taken up humane vermin removal under the banner Anti-Pesto. Their job is crucial: Tottington Hall’s annual Giant Vegetable Competition looms, and the townsfolk’s prize pumpkins and monster squashes are tempting targets for late-night-snack- attacking rabbits. Luckily, Anti-Pesto has installed constant gardeners of a sort—gnome statuettes with infrared eyes that act as trip wires. Motion triggers an alarm chez Wallace that wakes him by proffering a plate of cheese to his dreaming nose, only to withdraw it and have his head smack the wall.
As in Park’s 2000 non-W&G Chicken Run, there’s a firm stance against cruelty to animals—but the superior
Curse adds a nice reductio ad absurdum in which we feel sorry for the ravaged veggies too, as a mysterious gargantuan herbivore starts making the rounds. Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), whose mouth structure suggests a shared bloodline with Mr. Bill and whose hair resembles a steel-wool baguette, proclaims with pampered authority, “I believe the killing of fluffy creatures is never justified.” But even when said f.c. is capable of massive destruction? Her trigger-happy, Elvis-coiffed toff of a suitor, Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), is only too happy to go on the hunt, sensing that Wallace is a rival for Lady T.’s affections.
Curse has echoes from the previous W&G outings—the captured bunnies recall the voracious sheep in A Close Shave
, and one of the critters even starts to speak in Wallace-isms (after an ill-advised bit of “brain alteration”). But this latest and biggest installment is a whimsical success of a very high order: The pace never lags, the invention is incessant, and it makes you want to have a bite of cheese afterward.