Friday, November 13, 2009

Aardman are so very, very good at what they do

When I was a youngster, a new show was coming to the ABC called "Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers". It was the talk of the neighbourhood and everyone made sure they tuned in to watch it. We even taped it off the telly in case it was any good. It was good - so good, in fact, that I wore the tape down and dad bought me the official VHS of The Wrong Trousers and A Grand Day Out for christmas (for the longest time I thought G.D.O. came after Wrong Trousers).
The penguin became a cultural icon, and I found it enthralling that a penguin could use measuring tape as a grappling hook. I tried doing it myself for about a year before eventually giving up.

Anyway, I watched Curse of the Were-Rabbit again tonight, hence the new rant.
I love that movie, I really do. Only the British can make a film about vegetables being stolen by rabbits hilarious and exciting.

Although they began to dally with these concepts in A Close Shave, Nick Park and his creative team made some interesting decisions regarding the feature film (and very wise ones) - they expanded the universe of Wallace and Gromit into a full town, a full community. The antagonist, Victor Quartermain, is a show-stealer and is a match for the Penguin in villainy (a potential murderer in the Wallace and Gromit universe is actually kind of creepy).

What an excellent composition for a shot!

Interestingly, my housemate Richard kept asking me if the film was CGI; no, I said, it was stop motion. Was I sure? Of course I was fucking sure. I had to prove it to him with the Making Of documentary. He insisted it was a lot more smooth than most stop motion animation he'd seen, and I responded by showing him a bit of Corpse Bride.
It wasn't until then that I realised Victor Quartermain bears a strikingly similar role in the story to that of Barkis from Corpse Bride - both movies were released in the same year, 2005. They are both after the money - not the affections - of the hero's love interest, and both of them are viscious, homocidal cads. Although I like Corpse Bride, I am going to have to say that Victor made for a far more compelling villain, and this may have something to do with the fact that Victor is given more screentime and more opportunity to develop as a slimey bastard. Barkis is obviously a snake from the beginning and we're more or less prompted to just go with it, whereas Victor gradually becomes more evil throughout the movie.

The humour in this film is incredible. There are countless and very English plays on words, puns, and sexual innuendos that are considerably less heavy-handed than those seen in most other modern animated features. Most of the humour, however, comes from the comical exaggeration of how these townsfolk worship plants, and the horrors of having their vegetables stolen and eaten. Nick Park described it as the "first ever vegetarian horror movie". The very premise is comical in nature, and the scenes with the Vicar in particular seek to exploit the horror and thriller genres for comedy at every opportunity.

If I have any complaints about this film, it would be that the ending was a bit cheap (but nowhere near as disappointing as Corpse Bride's, which in my opinion is the achilles heel of that movie), and from a really niggly standpoint, Hutch's up-pitched voice is noticably awful. One wonders if they just cranked it up with time-preservation in Sound Forge or Acid.

Apart from that, if you haven't seen this movie then I strongly recommend you do; this represents Aardman at the top of their game, a purist Nick Park offering, and family stop motion animation at its best.

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