Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit review – a model of high-IQ comedy

The gags never stop coming in the latest adventures of the sublime Plasticine double act

The factory might have gone up in smoke, but not the fun. Nick Park's thoroughly delightful Wallace And Gromit animation - his first full-length feature with these characters - mixes the pizzazz of co-producers DreamWorks with the gentle English talent of a Roy Clarke, or Ronnie Barker's alter ego Gerald Wiley, or even Alan Bennett. It's a lovely family film packed with cheeky gags and buoyant fun, like the best-ever Bumper Holiday edition of the Beano, with the merest hint of Viz. The script, co-written by Nick Park with Steve Box, Bob Baker and Mark Burton, is a model of high-IQ comedy writing, and every scene and every frame is crafted with flair.

Wallace, of course, is the doughty north-country cheese-enthusiast, lovingly voiced by Peter Sallis, who lives in a small town with his faithful hound Gromit. They are making their living running a firm called Anti-Pesto, a name which as well as subliminally rebuking the fancy eating habits of soft southerners, sums up our two heroes' solemn mission. Wallace and Gromit cruise around in a homely van rounding up the rabbits who are devastating the locals' precious vegetables, with which they are hoping to win prizes at the annual fete. As one of the hysterical local ladies puts it: "We're simple folk! We live for that competition!"

Rabbit-related emergencies trigger an alarm at Wallace and Gromit's command centre, which is modelled on the International Rescue island HQ of Thunderbirds. Each of their clients has a portrait whose eyes flash in a crisis, like the pictures of the Tracy family. Wallace and Gromit then slide down elaborate chutes to their vehicle, in fine action-hero style, and get stuck into the situation, caring for nothing but helping the community. But Wallace has red blood flowing in his Plasticine veins, and he wouldn't be human - or rather quasi-human - if he didn't have feelings for his distinguished and beautiful client Lady Tottington, voiced by Helena Bonham Carter. She has a serious rabbit infestation on her magnificent estate and Wallace is able to use his hi-tech rabbit vacuum pump to remove the beasts without cruelty - a technique to which Lady T gives her quivering assent: "I believe the killing of fluffy creatures is never justified!"

His success with the bunnies enrages Lady Tottington's long-term suitor - the villainous and splendidly named Victor Quartermaine, who is a hardcore field-sports man and believes in letting rabbits have it with both barrels. Victor is terrifically voiced by Ralph Fiennes, showing a hitherto rather underdeveloped talent for comedy. Clearly a terrible showdown is on the cards between Victor and Wallace. But have these romantic passions, heaving in Wallace's noble and manly breast, unlocked the beast in him? It is time for the film's cheerfully surreal moment of metaphorical madness. In order to cure the captured rabbits of their greedy ways, Wallace hooks them up to his most controversial invention: a machine for sucking inappropriate thoughts out of brains. The experiment goes horribly haywire, and he gets connected to the rabbits' minds, like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. And when scudding clouds disclose a full moon of an evening, Wallace's ears start sprouting and pink fluffy hair forms on the backs of his hands. The resulting horror is filtered through Gromit's drolly watchful presence.

There's pure, unpretentious joy in every minute and Nick Park never insists on any misjudged Tim Burton-ish moments of "darkness". The supporting voicework is a treat. That comedy stalwart Liz Smith from The Royle Family plays a grouchy old lady - was it my imagination or did Park shape her character's model so that it actually looked a little like her? Anyway, Smith is gold and the same goes for Peter Kay playing a copper. The script keeps the verbal and sight gags coming thick and fast. Wallace is glimpsed reading a certain gossip magazine called Ay-Up, a title which disappears as soon as it is glimpsed. They have a trendy designer fridge with the brand name Smug. Gromit is startled in the middle of talking to Lady Tottington on the phone: "I'll be with you in an - aaaaaah!" "An aaaaaah?" drawls an impatient Lady Tottington. "That's a long time to wait." The film is however approaching the ceiling of its U-certificate status when Lady Tottington complains that Victor has never shown any interest in her "produce", while standing just behind a pair of, ahem, melons.

There's plenty of nifty visual humour: an embarrassment of riches, in fact. Wallace and Gromit's security system on local greenhouses is activated with a bleeping sound like a car alarm. Just a throwaway little touch, but there's more comic invention in it than in a hundredweight of lesser British films. Park also neatly pastiches Jaws and King Kong for his final climactic confrontation with the big rabbity monster. Anyone tempted to patronise Nick Park's tremendous creation should think again. It's blue-chip entertainment for children and grownups alike.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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