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Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

An Utterly Delightful Comic Misadventure

Nick Park, the writer/director behind Chicken Run and, of course, the Wallace & Gromit claymation (i.e., wire armatures covered by plasticine combined with stop-motion animation) shorts, two of which, "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave", netted Academy Awards, returns with the first feature-length animated film to include his most popular creations, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

As the title suggests, the film centers on Wallace, an indefatigable, eccentric inventor of intricate Rube Goldberg devices and cheese fanatic, and his silent best friend (or rather only friend), Gromit, a canine of uncommon intelligence and wisdom (time and again, he proves himself wiser than his ostensible owner). Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis, as in the previous shorts), ever the enterprising inventor sees a business opportunity in his very British neighborhood gardens (imagine cramped 1950s-era row houses, separated only by picket fences). In a matter of days, the annual Giant Vegetable Competition will take place. An unexplained influx of hungry rabbits, however, threatens to derail the competition.

Wallace & Gromit offer the services of their pest-control company, "Anti-Pesto" to their neighbors, promising to treat the offending rabbits humanely (the rabbits, admittedly, are of the fluffy, bounding variety). They do. Wallace & Gromit's basement soon becomes the semi-permanent home of the captured rabbits. Unfortunately, Wallace's best-laid plans go predictably awry (as in all of Wallace & Gromit's previous adventures or misadventures). Before long, a large, ravenous beast (the "Were-Rabbit" of the title), goes on a nighttime rampage through the neighborhood, targeting the obsessively tended vegetable gardens, and, of course, the giant vegetables being grown for the competition.

The competition's organizer, Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham-Carter), asks for and gets Wallace & Gromit's help in apprehending the beast. Capturing the beast before it causes further damage proves to be the first of several complications Wallace & Gromit have to confront to save the day. For example, Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), Lady Tottington's suitor, fancies himself a big-game hunter. Victor sees Wallace as an obstacle to Lady Tottington's hand in marriage (he covets her very English manor more, though). Victor also owns a dog, Phillip, who becomes Gromit's nemesis in short order.

Wallace & Gromit have to contend with capturing their prey before Victor does and saving the Giant Vegetable Competition from complete ruin. There's more than meets the eye, but to say more about the Were-Rabbit, Wallace & Gromit's part in the mystery, and ultimately, how (or if) they escape their latest misadventure would be saying too much, and spoiling the fun in for viewers, young and old (or jaded).

Fans of the Wallace & Gromit shorts will be delighted to hear that The Curse of the Were-Rabbit lives up to Nick Park's previous work. Thanks to Park, his co-director Steve Box, and their team of animators at Aardman Studios, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit carries over the gentle wit, genial whimsy, (bad) puns, and elaborately choreographed sight gags found in Wallace & Gromit's previous adventures. As in the shorts, Park pitches the humor to work for children and adults. Working from a tight, incident-laden script, Park and Box ensure that the pacing never lags, from the opening scene that introduces (or re-introduces) viewers to Wallace and Gromit's world, to their new enterprise, the "Anti-Pesto" pest control business, to the key secondary characters and, of course, the Were-Rabbit.

As a side note, horror fans will probably notice that Park and his co-writers borrow a handful of ideas from Universal horror films, including a transformation scene with echoes of The Incredible Hulk. In the climactic scene set at the harvest festival, Park even manages to quote King Kong and the lesser-known Mighty Joe Young. Let's hope Wallace & Gromit return for additional (mis)adventures in the not-too-distant future.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars