Both Chicken Run and Curse of the Were-Rabbit are at heart homage projects; they are the filmmakers paying tribute to the films and genres they admire, using well-known voices or characters to draw us into the story. Where Chicken Run took on stiff-upper-lip war movies like The Great Escape and The Guns of Navarone, Were-Rabbit takes the much-loved duo‚??s comedy, puts it together with Hammer and John Landis, and comes up with a winner.
The initial success (or relief) with Curse of the Were-Rabbit is that the central characters whom we know and love successfully translate from the small screen to the big screen. So many television series, like Rising Damp and Porridge, have come a cropper on the big screen, spinning out crazy storylines and pointless set-pieces which take the characters out of their element and therefore dilute the jokes. The great success of Curse of the Were-Rabbit is that the relationship between the central duo remains the focus of the film. No matter how big the set-pieces, or how star-studded the voice cast, we always come back to their long-suffering friendship.
Much of this success lies in the look of the film, not just in its visual style but its great cinematography. Aardman‚??s affinity for plasticene and wire modelling over CGI and digi-mation has allowed them to make their characters as realistic and involving as possible. If you compare the look of this to A Grand Day Out or even The Wrong Trousers, you will understand just how far they have come. Add in the excellent lighting and the top notch score (produced by modern maestro Hans Zimmer) and you have all the ingredients for a sparky character comedy.
On top of this, the film is unrelentingly funny. Although the film tips its hat towards horror in both its subject matter and its visual, its approach to comedy is far closer to Zucker Brothers comedies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun. The beauty of stop-motion animation is that it allows filmmakers to fill each individual frame or scene with more gags or visual tropes than the audience has time to take in. Sometimes this is done for the sake of visual beauty, on other more infamous occasions ‚?" like Who Framed Roger Rabbit ‚?" it allows the animators to have some fun. In this every joke has another joke attached to it, and you find yourself wanting to rewind the film a few second back to spot something you saw out of the corner of your eye.
What this means is that for the most part the more parochial, British sitcom jokes carry through. There are occasional moments where the humour delves too deeply into the territory of the Carry On films or Up Pompeii, which will seem overbearingly retrograde for viewers of a certain age. But for most of us such occasions will either whizz by without a second thought or be covered up by a series of jokes more suited to our tastes.
This strange mix of so-called ‚??British humour‚?? with more universal comedy like physical slapstick, puns and parody make this film an irresistible treat, particularly for the film buffs out there. The film references a number of great and much-loved horror films, from the Hammer version of Dracula (the Vicar crossing the cucumbers in place of candles) to King Kong (Wallace hanging onto the flagpole, being surrounded by planes and then falling to his death). But the two biggest influences on the film are An American Werewolf in London (both in being a horror comedy and in the transformation sequence) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Not only do we start with what we think is the monster (as happens in the novel), but for a long time Wallace is unaware of his deranged alter ego.
The cast of Curse of the Were-Rabbit fit snugly into their roles with such ease that you might almost accuse them of playing themselves. Aside from the usually solid Peter Sallis as Wallace, Helena Bonham Carter is really enjoyable as Lady Tottington. Having played a monkey in Planet of the Apes and a one-eyed witch in Big Fish, she draws on her Merchant Ivory roots to play the slightly crazy rabbit-loving landowner. Ralph Fiennes is great as Victor Quartermaine, drawing on the great comedic villains of Basil Rathbone and Vincent Price, and adding in his own particular brand of snarling cruelty so that he chews up every bit of scenery he stands on. There is also a gallery of good supporting performances from the likes of Peter Kay and Liz Smith, who lift some of the quieter moments with some well-timed off-beat one-liners.
In the end, Curse of the Were-Rabbit passes the test of all great comedies; it was funny at the time, and it remains funny on repeat viewing. It isn‚??t flawless, and it may not be the best thing that Aardman makes (although considering the mixed response to Flushed Away, stop-motion is clearly what they do best). But it stands in solid company with the earlier outings of Wallace and Gromit as a genuinely enjoyable family film which will entertain people of all ages. Only time will tell whether it enters into the pantheon of great animated children‚??s films, but in the meantime we should embrace Nick Park‚??s touching film, which trumps much of Pixar‚??s output from the same period and brings a warm and happy glow to the viewer.