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Wallace and Gromit Score Big on the Big Screen

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Stop-action animation is a very hands-on kind of filmmaking. Figures are photographed in one position, moved a fraction of an inch and photographed again, 24 times for just one second of screen time. That's one reason that Wallace and Gromit, an animated inventor and his dog both made of moldable plastic, have only made three half-hour films in the last 16 years. But they are finally making their feature film debut, and critic Bob Mondello says the rousing adventure, "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," was worth the wait.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

If you know who Wallace and Gromit are you won't need much urging to show up at their new movie. If you don't, well, welcome to their world--a world where every day begins with a symbolic grinding of gears as one of Wallace's Rube Goldberg-like contraptions gets him up and dressed and fed and out the door with rather more difficulty than is entirely necessary, but a stop-action claymation grace that has to be seen to be believed. Theirs is also a world of raised eyebrows from Wallace's loyal dog Gromit, who is, you'll quickly realize, the real brains of this uproarious outfit. They are the world's pluckiest problem solvers, brightly tackling anything creator Nick Park throws their way. This time it's rabbits, and as the pest control team Anti-Pesto, they suck them up in Wallace's Bun-Vac 2000, much to the joy of elegant Lady Tottington and to the great annoyance of her trigger-happy beau Victor, who gets a bit too close to the machine.

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

Ms. HELENA BONHAM CARTER: (As Lady Tottington) The genius Anti-Pesto have completely dealt with my rabbit problem. Isn't it marvelous?

Mr. RALPH FIENNES: (As Lord Victor Quartermaine) Marvelous, marvelous? This confounded contraption virtually suffocated me. Besides, the job's only half done. How do you intend to finish these vermin off? Crush them? Liquidize them?

Ms. CARTER: They're humane.

Mr. FIENNES: Humane? Well then, perhaps they'd be humane enough to give me back my dignity. I want to pay, please.

Mr. PETER SALLIS: (As Wallace) Oh, grand. We take check or cash.

Mr. FIENNES: Toupee, you idiot. My hair is in your machine.

Mr. SALLIS: Oh, no, it's only rabbits in there. The hare, I think you'll find, is a much larger mammal.

Mr. FIENNES: (He growls) Out of my way, fool.

MONDELLO: Puns are almost as rampant as bunnies in "Attack of the Were-Rabbit," which turns into a spoof of the old universal horror classics when Wallace has to figure out what to do with all the rabbits he's captured.

(Soundbite of "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit")

Mr. SALLIS: Just a little added lunar power to enhance the mind waves (soundbite of machine being turned up) and we can begin.

MONDELLO: Things naturally go deliriously wrong and a frankenrabbit is soon terrorizing the town. All of this is accomplished by Park's plasticine puppeteers frame by intricately altered frame, often with dozens and even hundreds of bunnies moving independently. And when things get really grand it's easy to see why "Curse of the Were-Rabbit" has been in the making for more than five years. A few digital enhancements have made Park's work a little easier this time, but this film is still gratifyingly low-tech and hands-on. Part of the fun, in fact, is spotting the filmmaker's thumbprints on, say, Gromit's forehead as a frown creases his brow. Gromit has, incidentally, the most expressive eyebrows this side of Buster Keaton. And though he never talks and doesn't even have a mouth, it's easy to see that he's just as hilariously in tune with a prankish universe as that other silent film star was. If you've not yet made Gromit's acquaintance and that of his buddy, Wallace, you really should. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.