Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

Nick Park Lives!

Well, I did it. On the day the DVD was released, February 7th 2006, I bought my very own copy of Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Perhaps only fellow Englishmen will understand the compulsion to do this. It is, after all, a long story.

It begins with Nick Park himself, a gifted animator working with perhaps the most difficult of animation media, plasticine. Just imagine the patience and painstaking craftsmanship required to build characters out of plasticine and then shoot a movie frame by frame, changing the models' positions in tiny stages to achieve the appearance of movement. It comes as no surprise to learn that Nick's first short film, A Grand Day Out, took six years to complete.

But the real genius of the man is revealed when we look at the characters he created, Wallace and Gromit. Not only are they fully-developed individuals of great appeal but they contain an Englishness as no other characters, real or fictional, have done. And they are set in backgrounds and stories that could take place nowhere else but in England. There is a certain type of Northerner, gentle, simple and entirely harmless, that Wallace represents perfectly and Nick found exactly the right man to give a voice to the character: Peter Sallis.

The name meant nothing to me until it was explained that Peter Sallis played the character of Norman Clegg in the television series, Last of the Summer Wine. Suddenly everything made sense. Clegg was the character everyone wanted to be in that series, the quiet observer who accompanied Foggy and Compo in their crazy schemes. And Wallace was immediately endowed with all that was Clegg, adding a Heath Robinson inventiveness that was still so quintessentially English. To team such a character with the dog with expressive eyebrows and a solution to every problem, Gromit, was sheer brilliance.

Nick Park completed A Grand Day Out while working for Aardman Animations and, at the same time, he produced the excellent Creature Comforts, a series of shorts that once again encapsulated Englishness. And when he released the next Wallace & Gromit adventure, The Wrong Trousers, all England took him to their hearts and he became a hero. Not only was he brilliant yet soft-spoken, unassuming and yet spokesman for us all, he was ours!

Yet the writing was on the wall; Creature Comforts, The Wrong Trousers and the third Wallace & Gromit movie, A Close Shave, won Oscars and the inevitable happened at last. The Americans came over and bought Nick.

We were aghast. Visions of some dreadful mid-Atlantic hybrid, a mockery of our beloved Wallace and Gromit, drifted before our eyes and we begged Nick to stay. He reassured us that it was only for a time and that W&G would return. Unable to prevail, we watched him sail off into the West and resigned ourselves to whatever the future might hold.

Eventually, the first product of Nick's American adventure arrived, a film called Chicken Run. We viewed it in hope and, whilst admitting that it had its moments, nodded our heads in wisdom as we agreed that it could never compete with Wallace & Gromit. England entered a time of mourning as we re-ran the old W&G videos and bemoaned the loss of such a great talent.

And now, suddenly, he is back. On the television there appears a Creature Comforts 2 and, to more hype than was ever granted their previous adventures, a full length feature film of a new Wallace & Gromit adventure is released. And, having missed the theater version, I buy the DVD as soon as it appears.

Now is the great question to be answered, the reply to all our doubts and fears to be revealed. Have Wallace and Gromit managed to survive the Atlantic crossing, can they possibly have retained those qualities that so endeared them to our hearts? I watched in fear and trembling.

There is nothing quite so cynical and prickly as an Englishman who sees his icons in danger of being besmirched. I am quite sure that, in theaters all over England, people watched with arms folded, bracing themselves for the realization that the greatness of W&G was gone forever. We remembered Chicken Run and feared the worst.

So it is with enormous relief that I can report that somehow our heroes have survived. Oh, there are American influences in the length of the movie, its slickness and multitude of extras, but here still is the delightfully understated Wallace, the endlessly expressive eyes and brow of Gromit. The story is more complex than before but remains set most solidly "somewhere in the North of England". And the humor is still typically understated English although there are added quiet references to film classics. The Were-Rabbit will certainly do and I must heave a sigh of relief that the Americans have been so sensitive in allowing Nick to get on with it without interference.

And yet. Something has been lost and it is not the fault of America. Perhaps I am just an old curmudgeon but, to me, the real classic was The Wrong Trousers. The limitation to just three characters, Wallace and Gromit and the hugely sinister penguin, enabled full development of their personalities and we were able to become engrossed in their adventures. With each succeeding film, more characters have entered and it becomes impossible to have real depth to their personalities. They become stereotypes, unable to exert real power upon us. We begin not to care what happens to them.

This may be an inevitable consequence of the expansion of the films to full length features. It may well be that a limitation to just a few characters would provide insufficient interest to support a whole movie. But I cannot help wishing that the additional characters were not so paper thin.

Still, it's a minor quibble. The important thing is that Wallace and Gromit ride once more in all their glory. And, thanks to America and the mighty DVD, there are additional attractions added to the package; I can particularly recommend a series of ten shorts on the inventions of Wallace, entitled Cracking Contraptions.

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You beat me to it! I was waiting for this video, now I know it's available I am going to run out and buy it. It's good to know that Wallace and Gromit still live!
Date Added: 08/02/2006

John (Syntagma)
Ha, you're a Wallace & Grommit fan. I watched the one about the trousers with my young nephew a few years ago. I must say I enjoyed the subtle humour, the Northern pan-faced drollery, and the sheer filmic professionalism of everyone involved in the production.

They've got a new thing running here in England now about animals, but I haven't caught up with it yet. Judging by the drop-dead reviews, it's as good as anything they've done.
Date Added: 08/02/2006

Gone Away
Glad to be of service, Rollo! And, for a W&G fan, this is something not to be missed. :)
Date Added: 08/02/2006

Gone Away
That animal thing sounds like Creature Comforts 2, John. If so, you're in for a treat! :)
Date Added: 08/02/2006

I've been watching Creature Comforts 2 and it's excellent...
Date Added: 09/02/2006

Don't mind me, just testing stuff :D
Date Added: 11/02/2006

Gone Away
Not categories, no, that would never be it... ;)
Date Added: 11/02/2006

Shush I'm fixing stuff... I hope
Date Added: 11/02/2006

Gary Charpentier
My favorite W&G was the one about the rocket to the moon on a cheese-hunting holiday. (What was that title?) Being of French ancestry, of course I love cheese. Nothing in that episode struck me as implausible. OH, and that confounded little tune that sounds every time the moon-oven-thingamajig thinks about skiing the Alps sometimes comes inside my helmet when I'm just riding along... so-bloody-annoying! "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit", in my opinion, was too long. That's my only complaint. My daughter Emily fell asleep. Good story, faultless animation, but too long. Write well, =gc=
Date Added: 11/02/2006

Gone Away
The cheese-eating holiday on the moon was A Grand Day Out, Gary. You may be right about the length of the Were-Rabbit - I felt it began to drag a bit towards the end too.
Date Added: 12/02/2006

Glad to see them win some recognition at the oscars..I am not a big Oscars fan but I did see that at least =) still need to see the DVD though
Date Added: 13/03/2006

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