Josh Bell

No one pays attention to short films anymore, and that's why it's impressive that Nick Park has been able to garner any sort of following at all for his series of animated shorts starring hapless, cheese-loving Englishman Wallace and his mute, pragmatic dog Gromit. Two Wallace and Gromit shorts have won Oscars, and Park broke into the mainstream a few years ago with his feature film, Chicken Run, made in the same claymation style as the Wallace & Gromit shorts, in which every character suffers from a profound overbite.

Now Park is back with The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Wallace and Gromit's first feature, which retains everything that made their short films so entertaining, and comes away as the year's best animated movie. It seems that these days, Wallace (voiced by Sallis) and Gromit are employed as pest-control experts, humanely dispatching the ravenous rabbits plaguing the gardens of their neighbors, all of whom are preparing for the town's annual vegetable-growing competition.

The duo's most precious client is local aristocrat Lady Tottington (Carter), upon whom Wallace has a bit of a crush. Tottington is the sponsor of the vegetable-growing competition, and as such she's especially distraught over the infestation of rabbits on her sprawling estate. Leering Victor Quartermaine (Fiennes) wants to hunt down the rabbits and marry the lady for her money but Tottington, who looks remarkably like a carrot herself, prefers Wallace's more gentle methods.

Things only get more complicated when, through one of the duo's trademark technological mishaps, they end up creating a giant, monstrous rabbit that terrorizes the whole town. All of which is just an excuse for Wallace to flail about helplessly and Gromit to roll his eyes and get his master out of yet another jam.

Park and co-director Steve Box manage to make what is really just another Wallace & Gromit adventure into a droll, exciting and joyous movie, perfect for children but chock-full of puns and visual references that adults will appreciate. Unlike the computer-animated films of its distributor, DreamWorks, Were-Rabbit doesn't trot out pointless celebrity appearances or pop-culture asides to pander to its audience. Carter and Fiennes are unobtrusive and could easily be mistaken for anonymous voice actors (although they both do excellent work). The humor is sophisticated but sweet, and the clever references are not the only thing about the movie for adults to enjoy.

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