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By Admin | February 23, 2006

I’m glad good old-fashioned stop-motion animation is still alive and well. Computer animation of the Pixar variety has its purpose, of course, as does traditional 2D work, but I’d hate to see the unique look of stop-motion go the way of the dodo. After all, if it’s not broken, why fix it, right?

“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” finds our intrepid heroes running a new enterprise that keeps them busy ridding the town of pesky rabbits. Wallace still comes up with wild inventions, of course, and Gromit still does his best to keep life in general under control. As in the shorts previously produced by Aardman, visual and written puns still abound; half the fun of this film is just looking for them.

The big vegetable festival is just days away, and the town finds itself besieged by a nocturnal beast that threatens to eat all their prized produce. Wallace and Gromit are called into action, and they meet Lady Tottington, a potential love interest who’s engaged to the smarmy Victor Quartermaine. Victor is threatened by Wallace, of course, so he decides he’s the one who will fix the problem and win Lady Tottington’s love. But then the were-rabbit turns out to be something different than everyone imagined.

Like Pixar’s films, “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” is the kind of movie that parents can really enjoy with their kids, something all of us with kids appreciate when the little buggers insist on watching it over and over and over and over and over and over again. (At least the days of VHS tapes that eventually wore out are now gone.) A lot of the jokes may go over the kids’ heads, but they’ll smack you square between the eyes. This really is a fun film with a tidy plot and plenty of inventive situations. If you’re not familiar with Wallace & Gromit, here’s the perfect chance to get acquainted.

Given the movie’s 85-minute running time, there was plenty of extra room on this DVD for bonus materials, and DreamWorks didn’t disappoint. First up we have a commentary with co-directors Steve Box and Nick Park, who cover all the behind-the-scenes topics you’d expect, from explaining how certain shots and effects were achieved to why specific story decisions were made. There’s very little filler in the way of describing what’s on the screen or goofing off, which sometimes plagues multi-person commentaries.

We also get a pair of EPK-style documentaries: “How Wallace & Gromit Went to Hollywood” and “Behind the Scenes of ‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.’” As someone who knew very little about the pair’s background, I found the former especially informative, although hardcore fans may not find much they didn’t already know. The latter is a quick, cover-the-bases look at the making of the film. The commentary helps fill in some holes there, but I hope a definitive Wallace & Gromit documentary comes along one of these days.

Moving on, we have nine deleted scenes that run about 13 minutes. They can be played with or without commentary. Some of them are in storyboard form only, while others were finished pieces of animation cut during the editing process, much to the chagrin of the animators. In fact, one of the bits is so short that it has to play over and over while Park and Box explain all their reasons for cutting it. You can hear a little waffling by them during this and other parts of the commentary, wondering if they should have really cut this shot or that scene. That’s one area, I think, where Pixar has a leg up: They never regret cutting anything, and you can always understand their rationale for excising a scene.

This disc also contains “A Day in the Life of Aardman,” which is self-explanatory, along with “How to Build a Bunny,” which shouldn’t need any discussion either. The former runs about eight minutes, the latter around three. We also get four photo galleries that show the signs that were created for the film, some of the storyboards, the photos displayed during the opening sequence, and various behind-the-scenes images.

Steve Box’s 11-minute short “Stage Fright” can also be found on this disc. It’s a wonderful film set during the transition period between vaudeville and films, when many stage acts were good for nothing more than warming up a crowd before a feature. It’s a dark film that you might not want to show to kids who aren’t in grade school yet; of course, many children may not enjoy it anyway, since it’s not as frenetic as Wallace and Gromit. A commentary is available; I find it very informative.

Finally, your kids will get a kick out of “DWK,” a section divided into “Cracking Contraptions” and “Games and Activities.” The former contains three short films (each less than five minutes) that show off Wallace’s inventions. The latter, however, is misnamed: there’s only one game, and only one activity. It consists of “Victor Quartermaine’s Guide to Cool,” which offers the character’s tips for acting suave, complete with clips from the film; “Style With Lady Tottington,” which lets you dress her in different outfits; and “Build Your Own Bunny,” which repurposes the earlier “How to Build a Bunny” micro-featurette.

There’s also a DVD-ROM section, but it, like so many others, doesn’t work on a Mac, so I have no idea if it’s any good or not.

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