'Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit'

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Animation critic Charles Solomon reviews Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the new claymation animated film from director Nick Park. The film reunites an eccentric English inventor and his trusty dog sidekick, first introduced in a series of critically acclaimed short films.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

OK, one more movie item: "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." This is the newest offering from the British claymation artist Nick Park, best known here for the film "Chicken Run" which came out five years ago. Nick Park has won Oscars for his short films starring the Wallace & Gromit duo, but "Were-Rabbit" is the first full-length picture featuring these characters. Charles Solomon writes about animation for DAY TO DAY. Here's his review.

CHARLES SOLOMON reporting:

One of the most anticipated animated films in recent years, "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" is worth the wait. Nick Park and co-director Steve Box succeed in presenting a feature-length story that preserves the personal quirkiness that made the Wallace & Gromit short films so entertaining. Wallace still lives for cheese and creates bizarre inventions that almost work. His infinitely patient and intelligent dog Gromit bails Wallace out when his contraptions misfire.

The film overflows with the outrageous visual gags Park adores. As Wallace is getting chubby, the breakfast table sports a jar of middle-aged spread. A photo on the wall shows Gromit graduating from the Canine College of Dogwarts(ph).

In "Were-Rabbit," Wallace & Gromit have formed the Anti-Pesto SWAT Team to protect local vegetable patches from hordes of hungry rabbits. Wallace tries to reprogram the bunnies' brains to make them stop raiding gardens.

(Soundbite of "Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit")

Mr. PETER SALLIS (Actor): (As Wallace) Simply by connecting the Bun-Vac to the Mind-Manipulation-O-Matic, we can brainwash the bunnies! Haha! Rabbit rehabilitation. Once cured of their antisocial veg-ravaging behavior, the rabbits can be safely released without fear of re offending.

SOLOMON: But something goes terribly wrong and Wallace & Gromit must face the were-rabbit, a hilarious, hairy horror who suggests a cross between King Kong and the Easter Bunny.

Peter Sallis reprises his role as the blithely self-satisfied voice of Wallace. Helena Bonham Carter has fun as the dotty Lady Tottington, who hires Anti-Pesto to deal with the infestation of rabbits on her estate. But the most articulate character in the cast is the voiceless Gromit. The animation is so expressive the audience knows exactly what Gromit is thinking, whether he's fretting over his knitting or exasperated at Wallace's damn-fool schemes, as when Wallace forces him to perform as a female decoy to capture the were-rabbit.

(Soundbite of "Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit")

Mr. SALLIS: (As Wallace) A lovely lady rabbit! How could any hot-blooded rabbit beast resist? Ah! Oh, c'mon, Gromit, a bit more, you know, alluring! Ho-ho! Ho!

SOLOMON: Few live actors can match the eloquence of Gromit's pantomime. The stop-motion clay figures have a warmth no computer-animated film has managed to convey. Even the eloquent puppet animation in Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride" feels cool by comparison. In some close-ups the audience can see thumbprints in the clay characters, which only makes them more human. Although there could be stiff competition from "Corpse Bride" and "Howl's Moving Castle" for this year's animated feature Oscar, I'm betting that "Curse of the Were-Rabbit" earns Nick Park his fourth Academy Award next spring.

CHADWICK: Charles Solomon lives and writes in Los Angeles.

DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News, with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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