It’s probably much funnier if you’re already a bit of an Anglophile, as in you drink a lot of tea and long to attend a weekend house party in the 1930s at a manor in Sussex. You imagine taking the train down from London, and someone would meet you at a station that’s called a “halt,” and you wouldn’t think murder was all that bad as long as the mystery of it were solved by a gentleman who has his manservant dress him for dinner.
The Wallace & Gromit claymation ’toons have always been very much about both celebrating and sending up the peculiar British character. You have to recognize it as a bit silly and a bit of an exaggeration that was never really real'but still completely love and embrace it nevertheless'to really get the warmth and affection with which the Wallace & Gromit adventures are offered for your entertainment.
And in their first feature-length outing, mild-mannered and rather dim inventor Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and his silent, mouthless dog Gromit'who is much smarter than Wallace and tends to knit furiously when worried'do what they do so well, which is run rampant through loving caricatures of British culture. Even though this is three times as long as each of the three award-winning W&G short films, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit feels just as cozy, comfortable, tidy and perfectly complete, nothing superfluous or tacked on to pad out the running time.
Let’s just say it right now: Nick Park'who gave us the hilarious and poignant Chicken Run a few years back'is a nerdily adorable genius. Or an adorably nerdy genius. (Ditto for his codirector, Steve Box.) You have to love the dedication and painstaking attention that goes into the stop-motion animation of 12-inch-tall clay creations. You have to love it that you can see the fingerprints of the animators in the clay when the camera zooms in for a closeup of Gromit’s mouthless mug. His face gives him an air of intense anxiety, which is pretty much the state he’s always in. There’s a handcrafted-with-love-for-your-enjoyment quality to the W&G ’toons, and it’s all sort of moreso and inflated here on the big screen.
It’s not really something that can be described. Either you’re tickled by the cheese humor and the jokes about prize vegetables and the British obsession with gardening, or you aren’t. Either you get that there’s something weirdly funny about a vacuum that humanely sucks veg-eating bunnies up from a garden'before they can nibble potentially prize-winning specimens'where they end up swirling around in a bunny vortex in Wallace’s bizarre machine, or it’s just so much hare-brained goofiness.
Puns are a particularly British brand of wordplay, and there’s a lot of it in Curse of the Were-Rabbit; Wallace’s bunny-removal service, for example, is called Anti-Pesto. But there’s a lot of satire, too: The aristocrat Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) is lovely if a bit, um, inbred. Her suitor'gun-crazy, bunny-murdering Victor Quartermaine'is a deliciously wicked burlesque of the British upper class, and Ralph Fiennes, providing his voice, has never been funnier. Well, I’m not sure that Fiennes has ever been funny, full stop. Here, he’s brilliantly wicked.
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, as you may have guessed, does feature a bunny-monster who goes on “night of vegetable carnage.” So this feature'in the grand tradition of the W&G shorts'invokes classic film, from King Kong and Frankenstein to Harry Potter and Cronenberg’s The Fly. Hell, there’s even an extended takeoff on Snoopy and The Red Baron. But really, it’s all about taking on the supposedly unflappable British character'and flapping it a bit.