Let's deal with the only possible caveat up front and admit that Wallace and Gromit's first feature is structurally a retread of their 1995 30-minute short, A Close Shave. So? Britain's Aardman Animation cannibalized its own oeuvre in 2000's Chicken Run, too, and it only mattered in the hardest of hearts. What really counts is that Curse of the Were-Rabbit offers more wit, more warmth and more cracking-good storytellling than any animated feature to come down the pike in many a, uh, moon and makes most live-action flicks look like empty exercises in the bargain.
The touchstone this time is Hammer horror as cheese-fancying inventor Wallace and his faithful pup, Gromit, try to protect England's vegetable gardens from the scourge of hungry, pesky bunnies. The duo's no-kill pest-control service spirits the hares off to a very humane incarceration and in the nick of time, too, what with a veggie-growers' competition coming up that rewards the most gargantuan produce ever yielded by the soil. But just as the contest is heating up, the landscape is invaded by a fearsome creature, the Were-Rabbit that strikes at night and leaves no garden safe from its insane hunger.
That lunatic concept affords jabs at a myriad of thematic warhorses, from human hubris to vegetarian awareness to the hypocrisies of religion (a cadaverous vicar is among the most covetous contenders in the vegetable contest). Or you can just ignore subtext and savor the movie on its endlessly satisfying surface level, watching it meet high-flying slapstick adventure with a punning spirit that can turn refreshingly adult at a moment's notice. The picture composition is immaculate, paying frequent homage to hallmarks of the English and American cinema. Meanwhile, guest stars Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes buck one of the voice-over business' most obnoxious trends by actually altering their voices to fit their characters (a landed carrot grower and her oily suitor, respectively).
And isn't it time to admit that that the long-suffering but eminently capable pooch Gromit is the most miraculously expressive creature in motion pictures? His facial apparatus is limited to two lidless eyes and a forehead that can occasionally simulate eyebrows, yet you always know exactly what he's thinking. Jessica Alba, remember, has a full set of features and it's quite often anybody's guess.
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