After a five year hiatus, Nick Park and Aardman Animations return to theaters with the further adventures of hapless inventor Wallace and his faithful canine companion Gromit. In their latest, “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” W&G, owners and operators of “humane” pest-control company Anti-Pesto, find themselves pitted against a giant lycanthropic Leporidae which threatens the town’s annual giant vegetable festival. Trouble is, the monster may be an inadvertent creation of Wallace’s, who’s been conducting experiments on captured rabbits to try and cure them of their urge to eat carrots and the like. As the day of the festival looms closer, he and Gromit (okay, mostly Gromit) must find some way to stop the beast before everyone’s giant vegetables are eaten.
Part of the fun in watching a Wallace & Gromit picture is in picking out the sight gags and cultural references creator Nick Park and company have thrown in, and they certainly oblige here, from a few harmless double entendres to the overall classic Universal horror vibe (the musical shout-out to “Watership Down” was my favorite). At its heart, “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” is a kids’ movie: it’s G-rated, and no child over the age of 3 will be frightened by the titular monster, supposedly menacing as it may be (and no child under the age of 3 should be in a goddamned theater anyway). The caliber of the animation as well as the jokes obviously aimed at parents will make this a joy for older audiences to experience as well.
Peter Sallis reprises his role as the voice of Wallace, and I’d say he does a perfect job capturing the essence of the absent-minded inventor, but he’s the one who developed it in the first place, isn’t he? Gromit doesn’t talk, so that’s easy, while Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter nail their roles as the film’s villain and love interest without overshadowing the proceedings, which is exactly how it should be.
The Wallace and Gromit efforts stand out, especially these days, as some of the only examples of stop-motion animation still around, although it’s interesting that both this and Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” are in theaters at the same time. Even with the inclusion of several CG effects, “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” still has a charmingly archaic look about it. Park’s human characters are freakish looking, but in a disarming way. His style may be a bit creepy at first glance, and it’s understandable that not everyone is really taken with it. After a short time, however, you can’t help but notice and admire the painstaking lengths Park has gone to in order to flesh out his creation.
The idea of Anti-Pesto “humanely” dealing with pests like rabbits is pretty hilarious, especially to anyone who’s dealt firsthand with them ruining crops and gardens. Come to think of it, there’s a pretty clear streak of animal rights/vegetarianism running through the whole film (hardly surprising when one of your main characters is a dog who can drive a car), but the tone is – thankfully – never preachy. Maybe if PETA tried being funny instead of comparing eating meat to the Holocaust, they’d have a bigger following.
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