Wallace & Gromit: A Close Shave

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8 out of 10

A porridge blast to the face! Craftsmanship, wit, thrills--all in all a delightful all-ages show.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

I was stationed in Germany when I first was made aware of Wallace & Gromit. It was just before they became well-known in the U.S. The series had already racked up an Academy Award nomination for Best Short Film, Animated, 1991 for A Grand Day Out (the first in the series), and actual victories in the same category in 1994 (The Wrong Trousers) and 1996 (A Close Shave), and a host of BAFTAs and other awards. When my wife and I had our honeymoon in England in 1997, Wallace and Gromit merchandise was everywhere (sigh - money evidently makes the world go 'round, even on the other side of it).

These movies are claymation films with a very distinctive visual style and lots of wry British humor thrown in. Like the Toy Story films, they wonderfully balance kid appeal with adult-worthy humor, albeit in less frenetic, more English way. A Close Shave qualifies for the write-off, in my opinion, because it is far better than the ingenious but somewhat slow Grand Day, and even the hilarious Trousers.

The series is centered around the human Wallace, an eccentric inventor with passion for cheese and crackers, and his faithful dog Gromit (actually his intellectual superior), who reads books by authors like Fido Dogstoyevsky and studies such subjects as electrical engineering. The duo evokes Jeeves and Wooster from the P.G. Wodehouse books, with Wallace blundering himself into trouble, depending on Gromit to bail him out, and usually taking all the credit for it himself as Gromit rolls his eyes.

What makes these so great, especially Close Shave, is the fun they poke at the movies. This one includes great send-ups of classic movie moments such as the electricity between the two love interests (here Wallace and a woman called Wendolene Ramsbottom) when their hands accidently touch. We get the slow, ominous introduction of the bad guy (or dog, really...kind of...you'll have to watch it for yourself!), complete with tension-building music that is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but effective in a fun way at the same time. Ditto the adventurous-sounding music during the exciting conclusion that involves Gromit shooting strafing the enemy form his airplane (!) with a porridge-gun. I won't tell too much of the plot, but the villain's evil scheme and the heroes' thwarting of it are quite funny in a spoof sense, but involving at the same time.

The reason for the film's accolades is really the wit. You have to watch it repeatedly to catch all the little details thrown in. Some of the jokes may not work for Americans (a dog food called Meetabix won't be funny to those who don't know of the cereal called Weetabix, for instance, or if you don't know that the name Sean would be pronounced by most Brits as Schorn), that is one of the things I love about it, and found missing from the still-great Chicken Run, by the same creators, which used Mel Gibson portraying an American as the leading man...er, bird.

Like the CGI-creatures in Shrek, the claymation 'cast' shows great subtlety and humor in small details such as facial expressions. You've got to see this! I don't think it really matters what order you see the episodes in, and a DVD with all three and some bonus stuff is slated to come out next month. Pretty much everyone likes these, although American kids used to the hyper pacing of Disney make take a moment to adjust. The average ratings for these movies on IMDB.com is over 8, which is almost unheard of. They are simply delightful, and I can't recommend them enough. A fun, intelligent cinematic snack that doesn't take itself too seriously, and thereby achieves greatness. Here's hoping Nick Park doesn't become so busy with other projects that he never returns to his original characters, Wallace and Gromit.

Worth renting? Yes.
Worth buying? Yes.
Suitable for kids? Absolutely.
Year: 1995
Director: Nick Park
Running Time: 30 minutes
Unrated in the U.S., but equivalent to a G.

Click here for complete details at IMDB.com.

Review Copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin

Originally written August 17, 2001.

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