Wallace & Gromit: Three Amazing Adventures [DVD]
Director : Nick Park
Screenplay : Bob Baker & Nick Park
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1995
There is a perfect logic to the illogic of the world of Wallace and Gromit. The slightly daffy English gentleman (memorably voiced to perfection by veteran actor Peter Sallis) and his loyal, wordless canine companion are like two sides of the same character, each filling in the other's gaps. Though they live in a recognizable world that is defined primarily by its ordinary details--wallpaper and carpet and newspapers and tea kettles--it is also a haven for the extraordinary and the bizarre, where an empty refrigerator prompts a trip to the moon and a penguin can be a notorious diamond thief. That this world and its inhabitants are brought to life using plasticine and painstaking stop-motion animation is a marriage of both convenience and brilliance. Creator Nick Park wanted to be a traditional hand-drawn animator, but he couldn't afford the materials, so he turned to the cheaper and more readily available modeling clay known as plasticine. However, it's impossible to imagine Wallace and Gromit as anything other than three-dimensional objects moving in that slightly unreal, yet completely convincing fashion created by the best stop-motion animation.
When Nick Park started working on his first Wallace and Gromit film, A Grand Day Out, in the early 1980s, he was still a student who was doing every bit of the work by himself. For years he toiled on the project, and he was only able to complete it when he was hired by Aardman Animations and was allowed to finish the film while working on other projects, including Peter Gabriel's ground-breaking “Sledgehammer” music video. The story begins simply enough, with Wallace and Gromit looking through vacation books and trying to decide where they want to spend their holiday. When Wallace discovers that they are out of his favorite food--cheese!--he concocts a plan to build a spaceship and fly to the moon to supply his crackers with the needed topping.
A Grand Day Out is a brilliant first film, and even if it seems slightly crude and rough by the standards of the other Wallace & Gromit films, it is nonetheless an amazing piece of work, not only for the intricacy of its animation, but also because the characters are already fully formed. They are introduced as if they have always existed--Wallace in his green sweater vest and red tie and Gromit with his perpetually confounded looks and expressive ears--which is central to their unique charm. Their whimsy is timeless, and they don't need extensive backstories or long-winded explanations. They just are. The film also introduces one of the key components of the Wallace & Gromit films, which is a curious secondary character/nemesis, in this case a moon robot that looks like an oven on legs and dreams of skiing (that this somehow makes sense is testament to Park's genius).
A few years later, Park produced a second Wallace & Gromit short, this time with the full support of Aardman Animations and its resources. With its more polished and complex animation and photography, delightfully bizarre storyline, and pesky penguin adversary, The Wrong Trousers is generally considered the best of the three W&G shorts. Cowritten by Bob Baker, a veteran of British television, The Wrong Trousers begins with Wallace's latest invention, a pair of self-walking robotic Techno-Trousers. The story's real dilemma, though, is when Wallace allows a diabolical penguin to room at his house and the flightless waterfowl begins to usurp Gromit's place. While the scenario is certainly funny, there is a real sense of poignancy when the duo are temporarily split up emotionally and physically. One of the keys to the success of the W&G shorts is not just the understated verbal gags and wonderfully timed slapstick, but also the fact that the main characters are indelibly sympathetic, which is amazing considering the fact that Gromit expresses most of his emotions through his eyebrows.
The Wrong Trousers ended up winning an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, as did its follow-up and the last of the W&G shorts, A Close Shave. Like its predecessor, A Close Shave continued to advance the art, adding more complex scenarios, backdrops, and situations, including an entire truckload of sheep (some of this was accomplished by using digital compositing to enhance the traditional stop-motion techniques). The story this time around (again concocted by Park and Baker) involves Gromit being falsely accused of being a sheep rustler. Wallace's new uncanny contraption is the deliriously enormous Knit-O-Matic, and we're also introduced to a potential love interest in Wendolene Ramsbottom (Anne Reid), a buck-toothed wool-store owner. A Close Shave also introduces an indelible cutie named Shaun the Sheep, who, despite constantly quaking in his boots, turns out to be a real hero.
And that's the real beauty of these films: They merge the expected and the unexpected in consistently clever and inventive ways, forging a completely believable world out of clay and time. Wallace and Gromit have gone on to become cultural icons both in their native England and abroad, which is quite amazing given that their stature was initially based on three short films. Of course, when those three shorts are of the quality imparted by Nick Park and his creative team, their popularity and critical acclaim was nothing if not inevitable.
|Wallace & Gromit: Three Amazing Adventures DVD|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||December 4, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Each of the three short films presented on this disc is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and looks wonderful. A Fine Day Out looks the grainiest of the three films, which shouldn't be surprising given that it started as a student film. All three films are clear and largely free of any signs of age or debris. The high level of detail allows you to appreciate both the nuances of the animated movements and the texture of the characters' surroundings (note how carpet is actual carpet and Gromit appears to be knitting with actual wool). The Cranking Contraptions episodes, which appear to have been shot in high-definition video, are presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and look beautiful. The two-channel monaural soundtrack is clear throughout.|
|In addition to the convenience of having all the W&G shorts on a single disc, Fox has also included some great supplements. Each of the films is accompanied by an audio commentary by creator Nick Park and members of his creative team. These are insightful and fun to listen to, especially since each film is only about 25 minutes long so there isn't any wasted time. Completists will love the fact that the disc also includes the 10 Cranking Contraptions shorts created for British television in 2002. Although each is only about two minutes long, they are all small comic gems featuring Wallace and Gromit and one of Wallace's malfunctioning inventions (e.g., the Autochef, the Turbo Diner, and the Snowmanotron). Also included are two episodes of the spin-off series Shaun the Sheep, as well as a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes: “The Amazing Adventures of Wallace & Gromit,” a 15-minute overview of their history that is composed primarily of an extended interview with Nick Park (one of the real pluses is getting to see scenes from his very first stop-motion animated film made when he was a kid, as well as the first test footage of Wallace); “Inside The Wrong Trousers,” a 25-minute making-of featurette; and “A Close Shave: How It Was Done,” an all-too-brief 5-minute look at how digital compositing was used to enhance the traditional stop-motion animation. Lastly, there is a stills gallery of blueprints of Wallace's inventions, behind-the-scenes photos, and production shots.|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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