From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Wallace & Gromit

While most people are anxiously looking forward to this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special, I am much more excited at another British holiday gift, a new Wallace & Gromit special titled A Matter of Loaf and Death.

Are you done groaning at the pun? Okay, then. I expect more Americans are at least aware of this comedy duo thanks to their modestly performing feature film, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, but a summary for the uninitiated: Wallace is a hapless inventor who often finds himself in trouble because of his bizarre inventions and wide-eyed obliviousness, and Gromit is his clever dog who usually saves the day. There, you’re all caught up.

W&G are creations of Aardman Animations and Nick Park, who might be known to those of a certain age for his short film Creature Comforts, which ran frequently on Nickelodeon. He also directed the feature film Chicken Run, which like the W&G films was done entirely using the dying art of stop-motion animation (aka Claymation). It’s a tedious and meticulous process shooting a film one frame at a time (just think—there are 24 frames in a single second of footage!), and carefully manipulating tiny plasticine figures and props. But I think the effort shows in the final product; I was amazed when I saw Were-Rabbit in theaters and realized I could see the fingerprints of the animators in the clay. This might seem rough and distracting to some, but it’s a charming human touch that is lacking from CGI productions such as Flushed Away, also from Aardman. Though that film shares a singular style with W&G, it seems cleaner and somehow more cartoony, as bland as your average Dreamworks animated film (which in fact co-produced and released the film). Though it’s probably telling that Flushed Away was more successful than Were-Rabbit, perhaps because of the star power of Hugh Jackman’s voice.

W&G also occupy an SF-nal world, populated by rockets, robots, and mechanical trousers. The first special, A Grand Day Out (1989), takes the pair to the moon in search of cheese–not hard SF by a longshot, but it’s fun and imaginative. This was followed by two Academy-Award winning specials, The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995); ten vignettes collected as Cracking Contraptions (2002); and of course, the theatrical film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). All of the short films have been collected in a single DVD set which is well worth the small price you’ll pay for it. While you wait for your order to arrive, and for the new special to premiere on December 25th and find its way to the US, check out the show that started it all, A Grand Day Out:

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