It’s hard to think of anyone who doesn’t like Wallace and Gromit – or even how anyone could fail to like them. There’s something about this bumblingly eccentric inventor’s bizarrely mundane adventures with his infinitely more intelligent, exasperated, yet ever loyal dog which seems especially English. The ever-creative humour and pitch-perfect timing of this animated duo’s escapades, as meticulously crafted by creator Nick Park and his team, simply brings the concept to perfection.
Although they first appeared in 1989’s BAFTA-winning and Oscar-nominated short A Grand Day Out, since the wonderfully whimsical The Wrong Trousers back in 1993 – with its mechanical legwear and evil penguin – they have effectively become a national institution. In the run-up to 1995’s broadcast of A Close Shave the BBC even made the pair the centrepiece of their Christmas TV schedules.
And so now, 10 years after their last proper outing, Wallace and Gromit return in their longest adventure yet – longer, in fact, than all their previous films put together.
There’s normally some worry when an idea that started as a series of short films not topping half an hour is expanded to feature-length. Concepts which can be sustained for 30 minutes can often seem stretched when taken to 90, especially when they are such simple ones as a crackpot inventor whose machines have a tendency to go haywire and who has a predilection for cheese unknowingly being saved from disaster by a mute mutt. Innumerable films taken from cartoons or TV series have struggled to shake off their origins in the shorter, episodic format of the small screen. Yet when it comes to Wallace and Gromit, somehow – perhaps thanks to the success of Park’s Chicken Run film from five years ago – you know that on this occasion they’re going to pull it off.
And pull it off they have. The remarkable Peter Sallis – now in his eighties and one of the few remaining stars of long-running sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, for which he is still best known as the nervous sidekick Cleggy – returns as the beautifully distinctive, slightly whining voice of Wallace, without which it’s hard to see how the series could carry on. After being the sole voice on the duo’s first outing, this time he’s backed up by those quintessentially upper-class English stars Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, as well as British comedy favourites Peter Kay of Phoenix Nights, John Thompson of The Fast Show, Liz Smith of The Royle Family and Nicholas Smith of Are You Being Served? It’s a veritable wealth of distinctive voices to add extra eccentric colour to the bizarre goings on as Wallace and Gromit have to use all their nous to defeat the terrifying apparition that is the wererabbit of the title – a hulking behemoth of a bunny causing chaos in the cabbage patches.
The first Wallace and Gromit animation took Nick Park six years of solitary labour – each frame carefully hand-made, filmed and animated. He may have many more people helping him now, but this is yet another triumph of devotion and painstaking effort which should, with the backing of US animation giant DreamWorks, more than pay off after all the hard work. Well worth the 10-year wait.