When the folks who run Rotten Tomatoes calculated the Tomatometer scores for all of last year’s films, they found that the best-reviewed wide-release film of 2005 was Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. That would be the latest picture from Aardman Animations, whose claymation adventures of a naïve, eggplant-shaped English inventor and his cynical canine sidekick outpaced such Oscar nominees as King Kong, Walk The Line, Crash, and The Constant Gardener, as well as “limited release” blockbusters including Capote, Grizzly Man, March of the Penguins, and Brokeback Mountain.
So this week, while every other film critic in the universe was hunkering down with their for-your-consideration Academy screeners, I sat home with the quirky British claypeople. And we might as well get this out of the way up front: I just don’t get it. Tell me, oh beloved Tomatometer, why fans flock by the millions to Wallace and Gromit features in suburban multiplexes, and by the hundreds to their short films at midnight animation festivals. What am I missing?
The story follows a Rube Goldberg-ian inventor with an oddly proportioned head (that'd be Wallace) who, along with his silent dog Gromit (funny because it rhymes with vomit?) runs a humane pest-removal business. A few nights before the village's big vegetable-fest, things go awry when a giant rabbit is spotted around town. Against the dog's better judgment, the pair go after it, only to discover some shocking revelations
The film unfolds in a way that's pleasant, clever, and cute — in other words, yecch. All cheeky wordplay and glib surface jokes, Curse burdens its three-dimensional characters with one-dimensional humor. If you’re British, or under the age of eight, the mere existence of a rabbit version of Wallace that talks like him might seem vaguely funny. A better family comedy would’ve snuck in a wisp of adult humor. But in this Curse that’s the whole joke: a rabbit that kind of acts like the main character. Laughing yet?
And enough with the puns, already! When evil Victor Quartermaine gets his wig sucked into the “Bun Vac 6000” (W&G’s humane rabbit-removal device), he tells Wallace, “I want toupee.” Wallace responds, of course, “We accept cash and checks.” And before you can finish rolling your eyes, there's another one: “No, my hair is in there!” “Hare? No, those are all rabbits! The hare is a much larger animal!”
(Full disclosure: I must admit to laughing very hard at exactly one such pun. Addressing a crowd of his fellow villagers on the subject of the giant rabbit’s vegetable raid, one townsperson says he suspects “arson.” Everyone gasps. “That's right!” he yells. “Someone’s been arsin’ around!”)
You’d think Aardman would take advantage of a feature-film release to hype the Wallace and Gromit franchise to younger viewers (or to shut-ins like me who never saw them before) by including a few of the duo’s previous shorts. Maybe they didn’t want to cut into sales of their existing DVD collections. But the lack of extra Wallace and Gromit is a puzzling omission. There is a short here, but it doesn’t feature either of the stars. Instead, it's something called “Stage Fright,” about a Vaudevillian and his dog-juggling act. I don’t get this one, either.