Epic Movie (Re)Watch #166 - Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Have I seen it before: Yes
Did I like it then: Yes.
Do I remember it: Mostly.
Did I see it in theaters: No.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Peter Sallis, who passed away while I was writing. The voice of Wallace, we’ll remember always the love he had for his dog and how he was crackers for cheese.
1) Wallace and Gromit were the stars of three original short films published by Aardman animation before this movie was released. All of them were directed by this film’s director: Nick Park. All of them were nominated for an Oscar for best animated short film. The final two (“The Wrong Trousers” and “A Close Shave”) won that Oscar. Wallace and Gromit are icons of not only British animation but animation in general, yet this is their only feature film to date. Having said that…
2) According to IMDb:
Nick Park wanted the DreamWorks logo to play an epic theme, like something akin to Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). He wanted audiences to think that Aardman had sold out to Hollywood, before the film reverts to the classic Wallace & Gromit theme over the opening credits. The intro was also one of the last scenes filmed.
3) As the opening credits play the camera pans across a series of family photos featuring the titular pair, telling it’s own little story in them. It’s actually a perfect way to introduce their relationship: Wallace’s love for cheese, Gromit’s sort of impatience with Wallace’s shenanigans, but also the deep friendship they have.
4) The vegetable shop in this film is called Harvey’s.
5) Peter Sallis as Wallace is a delightful treat.
Dreamworks originally wanted the performer - who had played the character since “A Grand Day Out” was released in 1989 - replaced by a bigger star. Nick Park firmly refused (casting Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes in original roles to give Dreamworks this desire) and the film is better for it. Having a big name voice Wallace would be distracting. Sallis defined who Wallace was, playing the character until 2008′s “A Matter of Loaf and Death” (which is his last performance as the character). He brings with him a charmingly dimwitted yet sincere nature. There is no malice in Wallace, no annoyance. He is a totally warm and lovable character and I am grateful to Sallis for bringing that to him.
As I’m writing this I see that Peter Sallis has just passed away at 96. His agents announced, “It is with sadness that we announce that our client Peter Sallis died peacefully, with his family by his side, at Denville Hall on Friday 2 June.” I dedicated this post to his memory above but would be remise if I did not emphasis just how much of an impact he not only had on this series, but the world of voice over animation as a whole with his iconic character of Wallace.
6) Gromit is one of the finest examples of character animation ever.
Gromit has the strongest personality of any character in the film without voice or even a mouth. His snark, his heart, his humor, who he is, is ALL in the eyes. In the movement of his eyebrows. It is truly remarkable when you think about it, especially considering how iconic a character he has become.
7) I have never related to a character as on this subject as deeply as I do with Wallace.
Wallace: “The fact is, I’m just crackers about cheese!”
8) Helena Bonham Carter as Lady Tottington.
Bonham Carter is one of the most sincere voice over performers I’ve ever heard, with her role in Corpse Bride just as delightful as in this film. There is no ego to Tottington, you don’t even think you’re listening to Bonham Carter. You are listening to the optimistic, earnest, trusting, kind, and sympathetic Lady Tottington and I think that works wonderfully.
9) Ralph Fiennes as Victor Quartermain.
Like Bonham Carter, Fiennes is able to remove all sense of ego and just serve the character Victor is. No stranger to voice over work (notably The Prince of Egypt before this film), Fiennes is able to let loose and have fun with what is essentially a real dirt bag of a person. And although we may not like Victor we love to hate him and I credit both the filmmakers and Fiennes for making that possible.
10) The decision to go with the horror subgenre for this film is an interesting one. Much like how “The Wrong Trousers” felt like a Hitchcock movie, Curse of the Were Rabbit uses the established tropes of horror well by creating a unique atmosphere and having fun with its established tropes. A strong early example of this is when the priest in the film encounters the Were-Rabbit. He’s walking through a gloomy cemetery at night, hears a strange noise, goes into his church and then something is creeping up on him. Something we never really see. You could have opened the film that way and we would’ve understood what kind of tone it was aiming for.
11) There is also a lot of fine misdirection with the Were-Rabbit before the reveal towards the end. It is totally plausible and believable that it is one of Wallace’s rabbits run amok based on the way the filmmakers treat it, but also when you rewatch it you can easily see how the final twist works perfectly even if the filmmakers aren’t as in your face about it.
12) Like all Wallace and Gromit projects, this film has an incredibly strong sense of humor. The town meeting in the church is a wonderful example of this. From the organ player doing a, “dun dun dun!” after a startling statement is made, to this visual:
Strong visual and verbal humor are abound in a way which makes this film wonderfully funny.
13) I’m Gromit in this situation.
Wallace [after Quartermaine asks how they could catch such a big rabbit]: “With a big trap!”
Gromit: [Face palms.]
Townsperson: “By jove, he’s got it!”
[Townspeople start cheering.]
14) The lady rabbit trap is also another wonderful example of humor this film has. It is not only wildly creative but shows off some more of Gromit’s wonderful physical character.
15) While Gromit is alone waiting for Wallace to come back to the car we are given some surprisingly wonderful tension. The noises, the jumps, it is right out of a horror film and works wonderfully well.
16) Wallace transforming into the Were-Rabbit is wonderful. It’s straight out of the Wolf Man and a wonderful piece of animation. It is the big twist of the film: our hero is the monster! And the way everyone reacts to it is just hysterical.
17) They had to make this joke, didn’t they?
Victor [after the priest says the Were-Rabbit can only be killed with gold]: “Gold?”
Priest: “Yes. 24…carrot. [He chuckles].”
18) The rabbit Hutch turning into Wallace is absolutely fantastic.
Everything out of Hutch’s mouth is 1) a sped up version of Peter Sallis’ own voice and 2) a line that was either said earlier in this film or in a previous Wallace and Gromit. I think that concept is just hysterical and love that they included it in the film.
19) If you want to understand how wonderfully weird this film is, just consider this line.
Wallace [tearing up]: “Oh Gromit! I don’t want to be a giant rabbit!”
20) There are two jokes which I find straight up hysterical back to back.
Quartermaine [to the police officer]: “I don’t want to cause any panic, but the beast isn’t actually dead yet.”
Police officer [through his megaphone]: “The best isn’t actually dead yet?”
Quartermaine [after firing off a bullet to calm the crowd down]: “Now listen carefully. I’ve only got two [realizes he just shot off a bullet]…ugh, I’ve only ONE gold bullet left!”
21) I just love how THIS is what lets Lady Tottington know the Were-Rabbit is Wallace.
That hand gesture is so iconic for the character that even Hutch the rabbit spoofs it quite frequently.
22) The entire “Dogfight” between Gromit and Quartermain’s dog is an excellent showcase for how the series incorporates amazing action with wildly strong humor (as they did in the train chase in “The Wrong Trousers”). It is by far my favorite scene in the film, and when they have to insert another coin to keep going has my rolling with laughter.
23) The scene where the Were-Rabbit “dies” and turns back into Wallace is lifted directly from Lon Chaney Jr’s The Wolf Man and I just love that.
24) Of course cheese brings Wallace back and everybody has a happy ending.
25) I just need to get this out of my system:
(GIF originally posted by @marshmallow-the-vampire-slayer)
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit is another excellent piece of animation from Aardman studios. It has the warmth, humor, heart, and characters we’ve come to expect not only from the filmmakers but from the series itself. Peter Sallis SHINES as Wallace and the additions of Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes works wonderfully well. It is an excellent piece of animation and filmmaking in general. And I would be regretful if I did not make one last dedication to the late Peter Sallis. He may be gone, but children and fans everywhere will always have the warmth of his voice through the character of Wallace.