Admittedly, the smile isnt quite as elastic, the nose considerably less bulbous, the buck teeth moderately less protrusive. But theres no denying that Oscar-winning animator Nick Park bears more than a passing resemblance to one of his two most famous clay creations specifically, the lactose-overindulgent amateur inventor Wallace, who along with his faithful, silent-suffering canine companion, Gromit, has starred in a series of Park-directed adventures over the last two decades. Fortunately, Park doesnt mind the comparison. In a way, because they both came out of my head somewhere, I sometimes think of Wallace and Gromit as two parts of me, he tells me last month at the Toronto Film Festival. I can really relate to Gromit. Hes the one who observes everything and longs for this kind of quiet life of order and thats me, really. But hes got this other side to him, this alter-ego, or maybe my alter-ego, who has mad ideas and goes off on tangents. And Gromits constantly chasing the consequences.
Created by Park during his student years at Britains Sheffield City Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University), Wallace and Gromit were introduced to the world by the 1989 short A Grand Day Out, in which Wallaces momentary cheese shortage prompts him to, quite logically, build a rocket ship to the moon. (Because, Everybody knows the moons made of cheese.) The film, which started life as Parks graduation project, was completed with help from Aardman, the groundbreaking animation company co-founded in the 1970s by Peter Lord and David Sproxton. It went on to earn an Oscar nomination for best animated short (losing to Parks own Creature Comforts, which used interviews with ordinary Brits on the subject of housing conditions as the soundtrack for a movie about animals in a zoo). Since then, Parks sublimely bumbling duo have returned in The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995), winning two Oscars of their own in the process.
Still, Wallace and Gromit had never been asked to sustain more than 30 minutes of screen time, and so it was with understandable trepidation that Park, flush with the success of 2000s Chicken Run (co-directed with Lord), began to contemplate a feature-length Wallace & Gromit adventure. The danger, he says, was that the shorts might have worked because they were short.
Such fears prove completely unwarranted in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, an absurd and affectionate tribute to old Universal and Hammer horror pictures, with Wallace as the humane pest control man whose efforts to rid a northern England town of its rampant rabbit infestation inadvertently gives rise to the shape-shifting super bunny of the title. (Naturally, it falls to Gromit to somehow save the day.) Though the plotting may be more elaborate than in the past, the film (which Park co-directed with his longtime collaborator, Steve Box) possesses the elemental modesty and handcrafted textures that have remained constants in the Wallace & Gromit equation. As Park puts it, he wants viewers to see the thumbprints on his characters plasticine physiognomies.
I dont want it to get too slick, too finished, Park says. Its funny, because an awful lot of finesse goes into this work, but I guess its like seeing an impressionist painting the brush strokes are part of the aesthetic, and if you lose that, you lose some kind of connection. Everybodys played with kids modeling clay, so you can kind of connect with it that way. Its important not to cover it up, and yet to still create the illusion.
With any luck, its an illusion that will continue for some time to come. I dont know what will be next, Park says. But, he adds, glancing down at the replica Wallace and Gromit figurines adorning the table in front of him, I cant help but think of new ideas for them. They seem to think up their own ideas these days, actually. They have an independence. They write themselves.
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