Stop-motion animation has always had a retro quality, I think, all the while it’s been met with quiet admiration bordering on awe. On one level, it goes back to the basics of animation, going about putting moving figures on film in the simplest, most direct way imaginable; on another, the sheer amount of work involved in an undertaking like Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit is, as far as I’m concerned, inconceivable. Surely it must be easier to just let computers do it, and yet here we are.
Computer animation, of course, takes painstaking effort in its own right which is why, I suspect, virtually every CGI-animated film up to now has been an event, a larger-than-life adventure; something that justifies the time and expense, at least in the eyes of executives and shareholders. The most surprising thing about The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is how slight it is, how content to tell its delightful little story and let us move on. I am sure that an astonishing amount of virtuosity went into the production — the awe at the claymation artform that I referenced above has in no way diminished — but the film boasts few overt pyrotechnics, and doesn’t call attention to anything in particular; it seems to want to be seamless more than anything else.
Seamless it is, at least visually; it’s also amusing, adorable, and pretty difficult to dislike. The characters originated in an immensely popular series of shorts by creator and director Nick Park, and this is their first big-screen venture; the film is several times longer than any of the previous Wallace and Gromit endeavors, and truth be told, it feels a bit stretched out, the franchise’s various plot hooks seeming a bit thin to bear an 85-minute burden. But if the story isn’t as enthralling as it perhaps could have been at a shorter length, the film’s wild imagination, deadpan tone, and constant invention keep us on our toes.
As anyone who has seen these cartoons knows, Gromit is silent. That does not, however, keep him from being a lively and expressive protagonist; when, in the film’s last act, Wallace is put out of commission for a while, we barely miss him. This leads to unexpected consequences: perhaps the funniest moment in the film isn’t even a joke, but the mere sight of Gromit snapping his fingers at a sudden realization. I want to see that again.
I doubt anything I’ve described will surprise anyone who has even a passing familiarity with this material. It has a very twee, very British quality about it, though that sensibility is occasionally subverted with gags that are more biting and more diverse than one might expect. If it fails to blow people away, I doubt it was meant to; on the other hand, it’s the kind of movie I can imagine purchasing and popping in from time to time. For all its storytelling sparseness, it has enough jokes, subtleties and delights to last awhile.