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November 2005
Feat of Clay
Film Review by Mark Hawthorne

 

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Directed by Nick Park and Steve Box
Rated G

I hope the entire city council of Mission Viejo, California, takes the time to see Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Last spring, that city was faced with a thriving colony of wild rabbits who were gobbling up one community’s vegetation. The city council voted to have the rabbits shot.

Watching The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I could not help but think of Mission Viejo’s callous decision and feel more than a little sad that real life does not have the happy ending we get from writer and director Nick Park. After a series of highly successful short claymation films starring Wallace and Gromit, an Englishman and his canine companion, Park created his first full-length feature, Chicken Run (2000), which did for chicken meat what Babe (1995) had done for pig meat. Children realized that chicken wings and nuggets were once part of a sentient being who did not want to die. He promised that Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and Gromit, whose expressions speak volumes, would soon be getting their own feature film, and I’m sure fans will agree the wait was worth it. Not surprisingly, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is filled with anti-hunting and pro-vegetarian messages certain to be understood by kids.

As the movie begins, it’s four days before the annual Giant Vegetable Competition, and the local rabbits are, as Wallace might say, feeling more than a little peckish. To protect the village’s prized veggies from hungry bunnies, our heroes have established the Anti-Pesto security company, which employs a variety of Wallace’s ingenious inventions—including a device called the Bun-Vac 6000—to humanely capture each and every rabbit before he or she can destroy the neighborhood gardens. Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) is delighted with their efforts, which infuriates Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), a pompous big game hunter who is just itching to use the critters as target practice. Lady Tottington, who is not only hosting the vegetable competition but is a devout animal lover, won’t even consider harming them—and doesn’t seem to care much for Victor’s attempts to woo her. She much prefers the compassionate Wallace, who enjoys a vegetarian diet.

Before long, rabbits are overrunning the Wallace and Gromit household (after all, they have to live somewhere), and the duo is faced with capturing their titular antagonist: a monstrous rabbit with an insatiable appetite for the village’s obsessively tended vegetable gardens. Even Gromit has a giant melon he’s coddling in the backyard greenhouse. The ensuing action is a lively and atmospheric wink at the movies that scared the wits out of audiences in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s—or at least tried to.

One of the many charms of Wallace and Gromit is that they inhabit a world that is a unique mixture of old and new: their car is equipped with an old-fashioned crank starter and an airbag, for example. Their quintessentially British town seems to be stuck in 1953, without modern inconveniences like cell phones, traffic and environmental destruction. The characters are so fully realized that you forget you’re watching a film that required fives years of work with animators carefully manipulating the movement of clay models frame by frame.

From an animal rights perspective, I have but one minor complaint to share. Throughout most of the story, Lady Tottington remains steadfast in her resolve not to harm any animals. But with vegetables being devoured, she is faced with the cancellation of her precious contest and finally, with a heavy heart, gives Victor permission to go after the were-rabbit. Of course, this allows the filmmakers to depict the absurdity of hunting, and in the end the movie remains true to its cruelty-free premise. Yet, I would have preferred to see the story’s most vocal animal protectionist to never waver in her resolve. She makes up for this misstep in the final scene, however, with an act sure to please animal rights advocates everywhere.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is likely to find a place among recent films offering a gentle message about vegetarianism and the need to respect the animals with whom we share this planet.

Mark Hawthorne contributes regularly to
Satya. He lives in northern California, where he volunteers with several groups, including the House Rabbit Society.

 


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