In these days of computer-generated everything, you have to wonder why anyone would want to pursue stop-motion animation, in which 24 separately posed pictures are required for each second of screen time. But Nick Park continues to make an argument for this labor-intensive, downright medieval art form, and he can be awfully convincing. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which arrives a mere five years after Park's last film, the escapist Chicken Run, is the first feature-length outing for this occasionally dynamic duo, who brought a veddy British sense of humor to such Oscar-winning short films as The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave. And if I say the longer film is a lot like the shorter films, only longer, that's meant as high praise indeed.
As devoted to cheese as ever (among the books in his personal library: Grated Expectations), Wallace is still a dim-bulb inventor whose labor-saving devices are as pointless as they are delightful. And Gromit, looking more and more like Snoopy, remains the brains of the operation, Jeeves to Wallace's Bertie Wooster. This time, they've got themselves a business called Anti-Pesto, which specializes in the removal of rabbits from vegetable gardens using the Bun-Van 6000, a glorified Hoover that sucks the critters right out of their holes. But things take a turn toward The Curse of the Werewolf when Wallace, by the light of a full moon, accidentally flips a switch on the Mind-o-Matic machine that was supposed to rid rabbits of their desire for carrots. Instead, it creates a monster that wreaks havoc on the entire countryside, devouring produce like there's no tomorrow.
Think of it as a buck-toothed werewolf, only vegetarian and with big floppy ears. The movie revels in old horror-movie conventions ' the constable who's never there when you need him, the vicar who's always there when you don't need him, the villagers who, at the first sign of trouble, grab their pitchforks and form an angry mob. There's also the upper-crusty Lady Tottington, in all her posh tosh. (Helena Bonham Carter's vowels are so plummy you could make wine out of them.) And there's Victor Quartermaine, whom Ralph Fiennes endows with just the right amount of imbecilic hauteur. But the real star of the show, once again, is that dog of a thousand faces (but no mouth), Gromit, the best silent comedian since Chaplin. How Park gets so much out of so little is one of the great mysteries of stop-motion animation.