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In 1989, Nick Park finally completed work on his claymation film A Grand Day Out; a project that had taken six years of painstaking attention to detail. The thirty-minute feature starred a cheese-loving inventor named Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and his ever-faithful, ever-silent dog Gromit. Park was rewarded for his work with a Bafta and an Academy Award nomination.

Enthused by the success of A Grand Day Out, Park began work on more adventures for the popular duo. 1993’s The Wrong Trousers and 1995’s A Close Shave built on the earlier success of A Grand Day Out, but also benefited from a larger crew (from Aardman animation) and a more ambitious and filmic style.  

When Aardman entered a contract with DreamWorks to produce a series of feature films, fans rubbed their hands in glee at the prospect of a ninety minute escapade for Wallace and Gromit. Unfortunately, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit took rather a long time to reach cinemas, arriving almost ten years after the first showing of A Close Shave. Was it worth waiting for?

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Film
The short answer is ‘yes, it was’. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit more than lives up to the previous films with intricate plotting, an abundance of imagination and a wealth of comedy. This time, Wallace and Gromit must cope with the Were-Rabbit, a supposedly mythical creature that is terrorising the vegetable-loving members of their community. Plus, there’s romance in the air as Wallace develops an attraction towards the delightful Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter).

Stretching the world of Wallace and Gromit into feaure-length status carried with it an element of risk; after all, the longest of their previous adventures to date, A Close Shave clocked in at the thirty-minute mark. There was always that lingering doubt that these characters would not be capable of a transition to the big screen. Fortunately, Nick Park and co-director Steve Box manage to recapture the spirit of these characters within the opening seconds and we’re already heaving a sigh of relief before the end of the opening credits.

If there’s one bugbear, it’s a lack of suspense; something which was crucial to the success of The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave. There’s sadly nothing to match the fabulous scene in Trousers, for example, where a sleeping Wallace pulls of the raid of a lifetime at the hands of a devious Penguin. What there is, however, is plenty of action and it’s this which has steadily improved with each of the duo’s adventures. The final few scenes are where the film finds a second wind; treating us to the best jokes and the greatest action sequences. If you’ve been a little under whelmed by the preceding sixty minutes, the final twenty should put things right. A high-speed chase and a hilarious spoof of King Kong are just some of the tricks up its sleeve.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
And have we mentioned Gromit, perhaps the greatest silent actor of all time? This guy does his acting with his eyebrows and effortlessly walks away with the movie. The fact that he’s clearly the brainiest individual in a film populated by daft rabbits and upper-class twits means that he’s the one that we’re constantly rooting for.

There are enough laughs and ingenuity in this movie to populate ten other films but it's worth remembering that The Curse of the Were-Rabbit could, so easily, have been a disappointment. Aardman’s movies take so long produce, so it’s doubtful that we’ll be treated to a sequel anytime soon. It’s fortunate that there’s so many hidden touches in this film that repeated viewings will keep us busy until that encore. Let's skip the requisite puns (‘Cracking film, Gromit’ etc) and just state, for the record, that this movie comes highly-recommended.  

Video
Wallace and Gromit have never looked so good with this 1.85 anamorphic transfer. While colours occasionally look a little bland, the clarity is good with sharpness and nice contrast. Equally pleasing are the many scenes set in darkness which are well-represented on DVD. These are the benefits of showcasing a film shot entirely on miniature sets…

Audio
The famous Wallace and Gromit tune is given a full-orchestral arrangement for The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and it sounds fantastic when treated to a 5.1 audio mix. The true merits of surround sound are kept to a minimum, with a strong weighting towards the front speakers, but the sound quality of dialogue and special effects is more than satisfactory.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Extras
You’re in good hands for the commentary as directors Nick Park and Steve Box discuss the making of the film with candour and good humour. A huge benefit is that they also wrote the screenplay so they can discuss the numerous changes in the storyline as filming progressed.

Two documentaries manage to cover precisely the same ground. Both ‘The History of Wallace and Gromit’ and the perfunctory ‘Making of…’detail the earlier films and the direction of Were-Rabbit. Presumably intended for young fans rather than older viewers, neither goes into significant depth but provides the occasional nugget of information.

The vast majority of the deleted scenes are at the animatic stage, with Nick Park often voicing Wallace in the absence of Peter Sallis. Park and Steve Box are on hand to discuss the reasons for their deletion in an optional commentary.

‘How to Build a Bunny’ is a very short look at how to sculpt a plasticine rabbit. It would have benefited from a swift edit into one of the longer documentaries such as the ‘A Day in the Life at Aardman Animation’ featurette, which affords the audience a brief tour of the offices behind the movie.

‘The Family Album’ is, more specifically, a collection of galleries containing storyboards and other miscellanea which are included here to be comprehensive rather than to entertain.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
The various games and activities on the disc will hold a little interest for younger members of the audience. Ditto the DVD-Rom features which are worthy of a quick look.

The final extra on disc one is a selection of trailers. Madagascar, Shark Tale, Shrek 2 and Nanny McPhee are all present and correct, plus there’s a look at the Wallace and Gromit Interactive DVD game.  

Moving on to the second disc and it’s clear to see that we’re running out of content concerning the film itself. The inclusion of Cracking Contraptions won't be a big deal to those who bought the three short films on region one DVD as they also featured on that disc. However, UK fans will be pleased that these have finally made it to region two. These short scenes are not quite up to the standards of the films but there are a lot of laughs to be had.

The featurette ‘The Making of the Were-Rabbit’ concerns itself purely with the animation of the world’s first vegetarian movie-monster. It’s also targeted towards a young audience like the documentaries on the first disc.  

‘The Amazing World of Wallace and Gromit’ was first shown on UK screens in 1999 and so there no references to The Curse of The Were-Rabbit. Furthermore, this featurette can also be found on the region two release of the three short films. It’s an interesting look at the history of the pair, but a flimsy runtime stops this from going into any kind of depth.  

Stage Fright is a short film directed by Were-Rabbit’s co-director Steve Box. First shown in 1997, it lacks the laughs of Wallace and Gromit but has enough charm to win you over.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Overall
Long-term fans of the plasticine pair shouldn’t be too enthused by the double-disc status as the second DVD contains extras that will be far too familiar to be of interest. Nevertheless, the features on the first disc, and the satisfactory presentation of the film, mean that this is an unmissable purchase. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is one of the most effortlessly enjoyable family films in years. It may not be quite up to the standards of The Wrong Trousers or A Close Shave, but it’s a delight from start to finish.  


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