If you were old enough to remember, there was a comedic duo that made claymation an art form. Of course, I am talking about Wallace & Gromit! In case you didn’t know who they were, Wallace and Gromit were a duo comprised of a cheese-loving inventor (Wallace), and his silent, yet expressive, albeit well-meaning dog (Gromit) as they went on a series of comedic misadventures, from going to the moon (A Grand Day Out), to dealing with a troublesome penguin (The Wrong Trousers), and saving a group of sheep (A Close Shave). However, there was a time when they dealt with the strangest of all beasts: A Were-Rabbit! The Curse of the Were-Rabbit came at a time when Dreamworks Animation was on a winning streak, matched with the success of Aardman Animation’s previous film Chicken Run, which needless to say, left quite an impression on audiences, and even inspired the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to include a new category: Best Animated Feature, after the film failed to seek a nod for Best Picture (True story!) Though it was strange to see the duo make their leap to the big screen, since they were mostly known for short films, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit did moderately well, going as far to earn Aardman its first (and only) Oscar for Best Animated Feature, beating out the likes of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle (Disney’s Chicken Little must not have made an impression, and there was no Pixar movie that year!). Despite winning that coveted Oscar, I never really hear people discuss this movie when it comes to the best in animation! (You could say the same about future winners Happy Feet and Rango, though those films seem to still resonate with audiences) It even seems to have faded into obscurity over the years, and is sidelined as just another adventure with Wallace and Gromit, while its competition is fondly remembered more! So what is it about The Curse of the Were-Rabbit that received Academy attention when compared to a beautiful Burton love story, and an anime classic? Is there more to this movie than just compensation for Chicken Run‘s snub? Maybe under all that Plasticine is something truly special! Either way, I would like to discuss The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a definite Wallace & Gromit movie through and through, yet at its core is a loving parody of monster movies and Hammer horror films and the tropes that accompany them. Every beat or scene is rife with some sort of gag, Easter egg, pun, or reference, that it may take multiple viewings to spot them all. Thankfully, a lot of them do work, even to this day. I don’t know how many times I smiled as each joke found its way through the scenes. As an eleven-year-old in the theater, I got a good chuckle at some of the innuendos/adult humor present throughout (I’m sure the adults there were having a riot as well); how it even received a G-rating while the harmless Shaun the Sheep Movie got a PG still baffles me (I feel both ratings need to be switched). Yet as an adult, not only do I still smile at the gags, I even appreciate the many references and silly puns scattered throughout as it gleefully pokes fun at horror tropes. Being that it is a vegetable-horror movie where the creature is a rabbit, a lot of the jokes mainly focus on vegetables or rabbits; in one scene, there is a store called Harvey’s with a carrot sign marketing it, which if you’re not aware, references the play/movie about an invisible rabbit, while in that same scene, Gromit, in order to ease his nerves while waiting for Wallace, fumbles through the Anti-Pesto van radio station, only to end at Art Garfunkel’s song “Bright Eyes” from Watership Down (another animated rabbit-centric movie, though more traumatizing for kids) in which he rolls his eyes, as if he seems tired of dealing with rabbits. Another scene shows Wallace sporting rabbit ears, munching on a carrot while saying, to Gromit, “What’s up, Dog?” almost winking to the audience.
Whether you find its many jokes appealing, there is no denying the animation on display. Working with Plasticine seemed to be hard work, yet all those hours (and days) spent on making the right facial expression or movement was indeed worth it. The emotions on both Wallace and Gromit are indeed, expressive, as they always have been; only anchored by the vocals of the late Peter Sallis. Even Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes do wonderful as Wallace’s nature/bunny-loving love interest, Lady Campanula Tottington, and hunter Victor Quartermaine, who seeks to marry her ladyship for her fortune, respectively. Though no feat in this type of animation is impressive than when we do finally see the were-rabbit as well as the transformation that accompanies it, mixing together a blend of CG and practical effects, matched by Julian Nott’s score, which adds completely to the horror comedy of the situation.
Why isn’t The Curse of the Were-Rabbit talked about? It hits the right notes in so many ways. Did it deserve to win the Oscar? Compared to Corpse Bride, it is second. Though I seem to enjoy it enough to make it an annual watch for Halloween, if not for its silly fun. That’s the way a Wallace & Gromit film should be!