Jolly Good

'Curse of Were-Rabbit' continues Wallace and Gromit's excellent adventures.

MovieReview A+

October 07, 2005|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The most captivating movie-comedy team today consists of a doughy, provincial Brit named Wallace and his wily, agile dog, Gromit. They may be made of plasticine - clay mixed with oil and pigment - but their creator, Nick Park, and his co-director on Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Steve Box, mold them into alternately outrageous and beguiling expressions of courage, panic, frustration and devotion.

Over the course of three Oscar-honored shorts (A Grand Day Out was nominated, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave won), Park has devised increasingly devilish ways of testing the household loyalty of Gromit, the mute canine who is vastly more emotional and intelligent than his supposed master. Wallace does have a knack for inventing Byzantine labor-saving devices. Otherwise, he operates on his animal lust for cheese; even female companionship comes in a distant second to a good Gorgonzola. Gromit is the brawn and brains behind the outfit - also the nurturer and domestic glue.

Gromit has weathered Wallace's flirtations with a duplicitous penguin and a would-be woolens magnate, but no obstacles have been greater than the ones this resourceful dog faces in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. As the story begins, our fubsy dynamic duo is plying a happy trade: a humane pest control service called Anti-Pesto. They appear to have succeeded in protecting the swollen vegetables of their Northern England town in the critical time before the annual Giant Vegetable Competition. They haven't quite licked the problem of what to do with the ravenous cute bunnies they've gently corralled into their cellar, but they're content to bask in popularity and success.

They've become so much like an old married couple that Gromit has even begun trying to change Wallace, eliminating cheese from his diet and substituting veggies. Of course, the trimming effect this has on Wallace makes him all the more attractive to Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), a veggie-lover who also loves rabbits and thus subscribes enthusiastically to the Anti-Pesto service. Their attraction rouses the jealousy of her aspiring-aristocrat suitor, Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), who believes in going after bunnies - and Wallace - with an elephant gun.

Still, the main obstacle to Gromit's domestic stability with Wallace is the man's own hubris. Wallace's belief that he can change the character of rabbits just as Gromit feels he can change him results in the emergence of a hulking Were-Rabbit. This monster appears to be impervious to Anti-Pesto's traps. He threatens to reduce all the hamlet's veggies to wilted leaves and empty gourds.

Park's imagination is as fecund as the bunnies that bob up and down from their rabbit holes in every corner of the Tottington garden. Wallace, growing ominously Homer Simpson-like in girth and mental thickness, and Gromit, keenly attuned to every shift in the emotional terrain at 62 West Wallaby Street, have never been more odd-couple hilarious. Gromit's floppy ears register as question marks or exclamation points; his eyes roll and his brow folds into ineffable expressions of skepticism and concern. So it becomes increasingly comical that Wallace takes him for granted and treats him as a trusted pet and not his better half. The entire series is a goof on British homespun domesticity - Gromit knits while Wallace does slow burns. So it's superbly risible when Curse of the Were-Rabbit erupts with outlandish parody adventures out of The Wolf-Man, Jaws and King Kong.

These movie jokes register not as scattershot burlesques, but as part of the grand cracked frieze of international pop folklore. And the more full-blown the fantasy becomes, the more dizzying the feats of Park's animated sympathy. His plasticine puppetry conveys an exhilarating sense of the precarious, whether Gromit suddenly breaks into a bump and grind to the familiar sounds of David Rose's "The Stripper" or whirls around the edges of a castle rooftop on a coin-operated plane.

The vocal artists contribute to this movie's heady fizz. Bonham Carter manages to make her voice as plushy as Lady Tottington's estate. Fiennes conjures the baleful bombast of Charles Laughton or Robert Morley as Victor Quartermaine. And Peter Sallis, as Wallace, proves that a plodder's monotone insistence on his own stubborn appetites can be elating and uproarious. In the end, green-thumbed villagers, leaping lupines, nutty aristocrats and Wallace and Gromit come together in a vision of a peaceable kingdom. For 85 minutes, Gromit is our hero, and when he regains control of his realm, all is right with the world.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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

With the voices of Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes.

Directed by Nick Park and Steve Box.

Rated G.

Time 85 minutes.

Review A+

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