Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

(2005) *** 1/2 G
85 min. DreamWorks Animation SKG. Directors: Steve Box, Nick Park. Cast: Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Kay, Nicholas Crawford Smith.

The double-act of cheese-eating human Wallace and his more intelligent pet, a mute dog named Gromit, has been around since 1989, but the duo's creator—Claymation animator Nick Park (Chicken Run)—has only just co-written and co-directed their first feature-length adventure: Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Of course, the delay can be partially chalked up to a five-year pregnancy of claymation and computer tweaking, but Park's baby is a cutie well worth the wait.

This time, Wallace and Gromit are pest-control experts who promise to keep gardens healthy in anticipation of the annual Great Vegetable Competition. When Wallace (Peter Sallis) plays God with captive rabbits, a Were-Rabbit goes on the loose, entangling preening prig Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes, in a jaw-droppingly funny vocal performance) and Wallace's love interest, Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter).

The Aardman Animations style puts non-threatening, lovably doughy characters through the efficient comic paces of classic Sunday funnies. At one point, a shock-haired Vicar muses, "I have a hunch this'll be a night to remember," and the stooped Mr. Growbag replies, "I just have a hunch." Okay, you have to be there, but trust me, it's hilarious. For added insurance, take a child with you.

Wallace and Gromit's short-film career—topped by the Oscar-winning "A Close Shave"—offered no guarantee of feature-length magnetism, but Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is thoroughly successful: not only charming but inspired in its humor. Park and his co-writers (Bob Baker, Mark Burton, and co-director Steve Box) land punchy jokes of every variety—puns, highly detailed sight gags, and even ribald laughs hidden, G-rating notwithstanding, in plain sight of unsuspecting children. It's ridiculously entertaining.

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