How appropriate that Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is being released on the heels of Tim Burton’s much-hyped and overpraised Corpse Bride. Both films share a technique (stop-motion animation) and a lead actress (Helena Bonham Carter), yet the difference in overall quality is staggering. The key, I’d posit, lies in the eyes. Whether living or dead, Burton’s characters in Corpse Bride gaze out from a universally hollow and soulless black abyss. As illustrated by the film’s production number-prone skeleton Bonejangles, who literally rolls his one eyeball between sockets, Burton views the so-called windows to the soul as interchangeable commodities. In Wallace & Gromit there’s a similar ocular jest when cheese-loving inventor Wallace (Peter Sallis)—who runs a humane pest control outfit with his oft-exasperated, always silent dog Gromit—colors a black circle onto a light bulb and uses it as a replacement eye on his picture wall of clients. At a cursory glance all the eyes look the same (there’s something chillingly zombie-like in the characters’ faux-innocent Ping-Pong ball stares), but co-directors Steve Box and Nick Park use the similarities to probe beneath the plasticine veneer and reveal a heartening sense of community.
Like the series of still pictures at the film’s outset that act as an endearing shorthand depiction of Wallace and Gromit’s relationship, Were-Rabbit is most concerned with the connections between things, specifically the ties that bind animal to human and, more theoretically, film frame to film frame. Stop-motion is one of the few cinema styles that requires and demands attention to each and every individual picture making up the 24 frames of one film second; as one critic pointed out, Wallace & Gromit bears the profound remnants of that labor in the random appearance of animators’ fingerprints on the clay figures. There’s something inherently rough and rugged about Wallace and Gromit’s world—the imperfections are left in as opposed to eliminated, and even when the film makes quite apparent use of digital technology, Box and Park find ways of maintaining their personal, humanist stamp. Thus, when Wallace and Gromit make use of an oversized vacuum to suck up a football field’s worth of rabbits, the directors make sure to show us things from the bunnies’ point of view. Hilariously, and touchingly, they think they’re going to heaven, a sublime, insightful, and resonant image that perfectly parallels the divine experience of watching Were-Rabbit.