Sunday, October 16, 2005

Movie (Animated): Wallace & Grommit

We finally got a chance to get out to see Wallace & Grommit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. We'd been meaning to since the movie came out, but work kept interfering.

Unfortunately, today turned out not a good day for going. It was a great movie, but an awful movie-going experience. I'll cover the movie here, and the experience in the next post.

I've been a Nick Park / Aardman Animation fan since Creature Comforts hit the International Festival of Animation, sometime back around 1990. The Wallace & Grommit shorts which came after were amazing pieces of animation, and hilarious to boot. Park and Aardman did a great job with their first feature film, Chicken Run, so I was eager to see if they could do the same with their signature characters.

One of the problems with The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is that every reviewer who enjoyed it insists on working Wallace's favourite compliment, "cracking", into a review, so I promise not to do that. But I did enjoy the film immensely. All the W&G stuff you'd expect is in there, starting (of course) with the Rube Goldberg-esque inventions down to the silly background gags (such as a photo of Grommit graduating from "Dogworts"). Moreover, Park & company have worked in a number of fun tributes to horror films -- and not just the old black-and-white standards you'd expect . For example, a were-rabbit transformation scene has a direct steal of the "stretching hand" bit from An American Werewolf in London; not a film any of the kids in the "intended" audience age range will have seen!

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit isn't quite as successful a feature-length film as Chicken Run was, though. The Wallace & Grommit gag rhythm works perfectly with a 30-minute run time, but stretches a little thin at three times that. By the end of the film even the characters in the film are rolling their eyes at the puns. Nevertheless, I have no doubts that Were-Rabbit will be many times better than either of the computer-animated films in the Coming Attractions lineup!

Before the film, we caught the trailers for Disney's upcoming Chicken Little -- the film they abandoned cell animation for -- and Dreamworks' Over the Hedge. So I'm going to take this opportunity to rant about them for a bit.

Disney's been an embarassment these last few years. Their most successful and most acclaimed animated releases have been films they've merely been distributing: the computer animated work of Pixar, and the North American releases of Miyasaki Hayao's Japanese films. Their own films have been tanking left and right.

Michael Eisner, in his brilliance, has decided that the thing that makes Pixar's films more successful than Disney's is the fact that Pixar animates their films with computers. Thus Home on the Range was Disney's last cell-animated film (and from what I hear, what a low note that was to go out on!). Never mind matters like storytelling, character creation, and so on.

But then, the fact that Disney has decided that their problem was in the superficial level of the animation techinque used tells us a great deal about how deep the real problem is...

I'm not planning on seeing Chicken Little, but then I haven't seen any Disney animated film since The Lion King. I've never really been a fan, and I'm rather annoyed that Disney seems to have completely ripped off their main character's design from Egghead Junior -- the brainy young chicken who was always perplexing Foghorn Leghorn in the old (and wonderful) Looney Tunes.

The Over the Hedge trailer was just unremarkable. There doesn't seem to be very much overlap between the movie and the comic strip it's based on. Even the characters in common between the two were only vaguely similar to their original forms in the movie trailer. The comic strip is largely about suburban life, the "disposable society", and the rediculousness of it all; the movie appears to be about burping your ABCs.

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