Cracking job, Gromit! Max DeCurtins considers friendship, the bygone days of his hometown, and the expiration date of youth in relation to Nick Park’s thoroughly enjoyable claymation spectacle.
Earlier this year I turned 30, and while I know that’s hardly noteworthy in and of itself, I’m forced to admit that I’ve started to become more aware of just what it means to be able to speak of the passage of time in terms of decades, to have a sense on a greater scale of what’s beginning and what’s ending. Lest you think, however, that that’s just some post hoc, ergo propter hoc bullshit, let me just state that this is nothing new for me; I’ve always been somewhat middle-aged at heart. If this were a badly written OkCupid profile, I’d be calling myself “an old soul, I guess” in my self-summary. I can’t believe I just typed that. Fuck. My OkCupid profile is awkward enough as it is already, even without clichés.
Generally speaking, though, I think I’ve started to become more aware of the finite nature of what’s familiar, the things and people that I know and with which I have grown up. My grandfather’s death and the death of Robin Williams in the same year certainly contributed to this, as did the recent shuttering of two iconic food joints in my hometown, Su Hong and Foster’s Freeze—one of the earliest locations. Several years ago, my middle school—hardly a place most of us remember fondly, but memory’s funny that way—was demolished, along with all the student-painted murals that had adorned its buildings, depicting friends, enemies, and onetime crushes alike. It’s still Hillview Middle School, but with no character or history, just new, architecturally drab buildings compacted together. Maybe this all sounds incredibly naïve. Maybe it is. I grew up a white kid in a mostly-but-not-all white liberal area where the kids you went to school with may have had, variously, one parent, barely making a (then) living wage; two middle-class, but divorced, parents; or both parents, married and working as lawyers, engineers, or medical specialists at Stanford. The ship seemed to sail on placidly and steadily, even if we didn’t always see choppy waters around us. It was an obviously unsustainable bubble—if admittedly a useful one—that has been dissipating slowly for years. Things and places I’d never really thought of as being absent from my life suddenly seem to have an amorphous but very real expiration date. I know that more of this lies ahead, as xkcd brilliantly captures:
One of the chief pleasures of writing re-views for 10YA lies in the googling, in finding out more about these movies that we either loved, hated, underestimated, or just plain didn’t fucking remember. It wasn’t until after I’d re-viewed Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit—or, as the esteemed editor of this blog refers to it, “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of Some Shit”—that I learned that Peter Sallis, the actor who has voiced Wallace since the series’ inauguration in the 1990 short A Grand Day Out, relinquished the role several years ago due to declining health, making The Curse of the Were-Rabbit likely the only feature-length Wallace and Gromit story we’ll ever see. The short A Matter of Loaf and Death, released in 2008, is probably the last Wallace and Gromit story ever to be voiced by Sallis, or perhaps the last Wallace and Gromit story—ever.
Wipe that affected horror off your face, Reader. Nobody said this was going to be a comical, gushy, lighthearted re-view.
I first saw the movie in Campbell Hall at UCSB with a friend who, if memory serves, had never encountered Wallace and Gromit before, and who possibly didn’t even have much of a taste for British humor. (Way to be a thoughtful friend, college self.) I distinctly remember feeling excited at the time to see a full-length film based on two characters with whom you would been familiar only if you’d grown up in households of a certain level of geekiness. I guess you could call it pride? Anyway, the point is that I knew these characters and my friend—I don’t even remember who it was—didn’t. To have The Curse of the Were-Rabbit be your introduction to the world of Wallace and Gromit strikes me as akin to introducing your children to Star Wars with Episode I: The Phantom Menace or to Harry Potter with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In a word: criminal. This is, however, not because The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is as lamentably dismal as the former two films. Quite the opposite—what we have here is a movie that stays true to all the endearing details of Wallace and Gromit, and executes them flawlessly.
Let’s be honest here: it’s a pretty silly story—but then, all of the Wallace and Gromit storylines are pretty silly. In this adventure, Wallace and Gromit operate a humane pest control service, “Anti-Pesto,” that protects the town’s residents from ravenous rabbits who would otherwise ravage the prize vegetables the townies grow for their giant vegetable competition. The duo do their job so effectively that they start to run out of storage space for the ever-multiplying rabbit population. Despite the town’s abundance of fresh veg, Wallace continues to be an inveterate lover of cheese, and can’t seem to bring himself to consume the locally available crops. As a solution to the rabbit storage problem, Wallace hits upon the idea to “brainwash the bunnies” with anti-veg inclinations. Naturally, this plan doesn’t quite go according to expectation. Shenanigans ensue.
After a week in which two close friends endured serious emotional hardship, and after three straight weeks of stressing myself sick trying to get a grip on the most crucial class of my degree, I sorely needed the loving craftsmanship and levity of Wallace and Gromit. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit may not constitute a work of genius, but I found myself laughing at its many, many puns and references more than I probably had any right to. (Pointing out all the puns and references would easily double the length of this re-view.) Ten years on, I can feel the creative inspiration and taste for the fantastical that director Nick Park shares, I think, with the likes of Tim Burton and Bryan Fuller in Pushing Daisies mode. Park doesn’t miss a single detail in this movie, be it Gromit’s knitting, the wallpaper in Gromit’s bedroom, the appearance of Wallace’s slippers, the sound the buttons and levers make on Wallace’s inventions, the brown teapot, or the way Wallace gets dressed every morning. I marvel at the consistency. Every detail is meticulously observed, and not out of some slavish replication of a text, a criticism usually leveled at movies that adapt written works. Not only that, both Wallace and Gromit have themselves grown in substance and sophistication as the physical modeling of their characters has grown more polished. You get the sense that Park deeply loves every aspect of his characters and their world, and that love comes through in watching the movie.
Ten years on, I have the tools to articulate how the music for The Curse of the Were-Rabbitworks and just why it’s so satisfying, in ways that I didn’t back at UCSB. (Thanks, grad school!) Park again engaged Julian Nott, who scored all of the Wallace and Gromit shorts, to write the music for the movie. The bright, anthem-like main Wallace and Gromit theme unapologetically celebrates the friendship that is the bedrock of their entire world. Like everything else in Wallace and Gromit, it has a retro feel that takes us back to the mid-twentieth century and earlier. The bombastic theme that plays in the opening sequence as the duo get Rube Goldberg-ed to readiness also has a flavor that would not be out of place in a WWII-era propaganda film for the RAF. In fact, just such a reference appears at the climax of the film. Gromit, flying a RAF biplane, gallantly swoops in to save Wallace from certain death, ready to sacrifice himself for a just cause (Britain does so ever enjoy seeing itself as an underdog—no pun intended). Instead of the adventurous theme, we get music that is simple but majestic—and I, Reader, have no shame in admitting that it got me a little choked up.
Finally, with another decade of life under my belt, I can see anew how all the Wallace and Gromit features ultimately showcase the close friendship between these two characters. Yes, there are the adventures, there are fleeting love interests for Wallace, but they never stick, and every time we revisit Wallace and Gromit they’re running some new business scheme. They complement each other, challenge each other, and complete each other. They’re a team; in the end, it’s just the two of them. While some aspects of Wallace and Gromit’s world are intentionally ironic, this part is intentionally and overwhelmingly earnest. I mentioned earlier that two close friends have recently experienced hardship; one has just been dealt a career-altering setback and the other is struggling with a new teaching job. The first friend I’ve only known for a year and a half; the other I’ve known since those college days when, among other things, I first saw The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. And while some friendships have joined Su Hong and Foster’s Freeze in Memoryland, token reminders of bygone eras, other friendships both old and new continue to strengthen, and I hope that one day these friendships may have something of the Wallace and Gromit essence in them. Ten years on, these things don’t change my opinion of the movie, but they do alter how I appreciate it.
After watching The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I went back and watched all of the shorts from the 1990s, blessedly available for unlimited streaming on Prime Instant Video. Jeff Bezos may be a maniac, and Amazon a living hell of a work environment, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel grateful for being able to call up these gems in just a few clicks. Truly, friends, we live in amazing times.
I realize, Reader, that you too may remember this movie as “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of Some Shit.” It’s hardly the most groundbreaking animated feature ever made, but I promise you it is worth your time to re-watch. Don’t believe me? Kiss my ar . . . tichoke.
– Wallace doesn’t know how lucky he is. He should visit a food desert in the U.S. A lack of fresh produce that’s both easily available within communities and affordable is a major contributor to American dietary problems. Obligatory public health policy mention over.
– OH MY GOD THIS MOVIE HAS SO MANY SEXUAL PUNS. CORRUPT ALL THE CHILDREN. Produce and penises and brassicas, oh my.
– Baby Gromit picture in the opening credits. I’m not usually one to squee, but . . . squeeeee!! Ok, back to adult mode now.
– Pirouetting bunnies in the credits. There are pirouetting bunnies in the credits. When I say no detail has gone overlooked, I mean, no fucking detail has fucking gone fucking overlooked.
– If you have Amazon Prime, go watch the short features (there are four of them). Go watch them right now.
– Wallace’s exclamation that “it must be the toxins coming out” made me snort out loud. Gluten-free shit, juice cleanses, intermittent fasting . . . it’s amazing to me how vague and unscientific people can get when they’re eager to pin something on a dietary factor. I’m getting a crash course in statistics in my current class on data science, and lemme tell you, there is no fucking correlation between those two things. By all means, eat a generally healthy diet. Just don’t get stupid about it. But y’all enjoy. I’ll just be over here eating my brioche—with butter and jam, no less—and not giving two shits.