Dirs: Nick Park, Steve Box.UK. 2005. 85mins.
A delirious blend ofwhimsy and wit, the long-awaited Wallace & Gromit feature is sure tocharm all who encounter it. Having already opened in Australia - just ahead ofits Toronto appearance - to substantially better figures than those forAardman's previous feature, the buoyant Chicken Run, it is a featurethat will hoover up family audiences worldwide in the coming months.
Good clean fun frombeginning to end, Curse Of The Were-Rabbit will appeal to parentsseeking a gentle new companion for their children, and will reward repeatviewing with its many, many punning details and visual and aural baubles.
If the film offers nosurprises, it nevertheless provides the unalloyed pleasure of seeing Aardman'ssingular claymation at work, as the cheese-crazed tinkerer veers on the edge ofdisaster after disaster while his four-legged companion and intellectualsuperior wordlessly saves the day.
In the US (Oct 7), itsstereotypical presentation of Little England should work well, while in the UK- where it is released on Oct 14, like the rest of Europe in time for holidays- the lead characters' high recognition among audiences can only help.
The only question is whetherthe film can also entice older demographics - such as the teen crowd - andpropel it beyond Chicken Run's $225m worldwide take (of which 53% wasfrom international).
It will also be a strongcontender for best animated features prizes come awards season, alongside thelikes of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Ancillary should be heady, offeringthe opportunity also to repackage Aardman's extensive back catalogue.
Wallace (Sallis) and Gromitrun a pest-control service, Anti-Pesto, for the villagers of Tottington, all ofthem competing in a giant vegetable competition. Called upon by the dotty LadyTottington (Bonham Carter) to solve her rabbit infestation, Wallace crossespaths with Her Ladyship's would-be suitor, a swinish swain named VictorQuartermaine (Fiennes).
Quatermaine's solution is toblast the rodents to smithereens with his shotgun; Wallace's is the BunVac, ahuge vacuum that sucks at 100 rpm ("rabbits per minute") the bunnies from theirburrows and collects them in a vast glass storage tank. His humane treatmentsset the lady swooning and Quartermaine seething; Wallace gets a new friendwhile making an enemy for life. He also gets stuck with another hundred hungryrabbits.
Convinced he can apply hisinventor's skill to rid the captured rabbits of their desire for vegetables, heconnects himself and his newly-created brain-wave transmitter to the BunVac andattempts to impart to them his own dislike for crunchy carrots and his tastefor such cheeses as "Stinking Bishop".
But the experiment goeshorribly wrong, unleashing a cotton-tailed giant upon the village's sofa-sizedcourgettes and table-length carrots. Wallace thinks he has the solution, butGromit knows better how to save the hide of his Dr Jekyll; meanwhile, VictorQuartermaine has acquired three gold bullets (24 karat, to be sure) with whichto slay the unholy beast.
From the snaggle-toothedvicar defending himself against evil with a crucifix made of cucumbers to LadyTottington's carrot-shaped hair-do - the big bunny channels King Kong in therave-up finale - the film is a visual feast.
The dialogue is almost asgood, as when her ladyship stands behind two strategically-positioned melons;or when Bonham Carter, in her poshest pout, complains that "Victor has nevershown any interest in my produce."
And any actor would kill forthe expressive face and soulful eyes of Wallace's Plasticene pooch, especiallywhen he shares with the audience his fear for his master's sanity.
Helena Bonham Carter