Wallace and Gromit in 'A Matter of Loaf and Death' Reviews
The best laugh: the image of bread loaves swelling suggestively as Wallace's and Piella's flirtation blooms elsewhere.
It's sometimes hard for me to remember that there is so little Wallace and Gromit made. Really, there are four shorts, a feature, and a handful of what I think of as mini-shorts, which aren't so much stories as extended jokes about inventions. It feels like there ought to be more, somehow, but if you added up all the films, it probably wouldn't be much more than about four or five hours. I'm aware that I have considerable connection to characters whose entire existence is even shorter than that, but for some reason, it feels like there should be more than that for these characters. I think at least part of it is that the original three shorts all feel like they're longer than they really are in my memory. "The Wrong Trousers," in particular, does not feel to me as though it's only half an hour long, and yet it is, just as this is. I don't know why, but there it is.
This time, Wallace (Peter Sallis) and Gromit have converted the house into a windmill, which serves as a bakery. Unfortunately, there is a serial killer going around, killing bakers. Twelve have died. One day, as Wallace and Gromit are delivering bread, they see a woman on a bicycle whose brakes have gone out. She is careening downhill, and it doesn't look like it will end well. They rescue her. She turns out to be Piella Bakewell (Sally Lindsay), formerly the Bake-o-Lite Girl and the woman of Wallace's current dreams. He falls for her, but Gromit has been through this a time or two, and he doesn't trust it a lick. Sensible Gromit--she, of course, is the one killing bakers. Her experience at being dumped as the advertising figure has turned her bitter, I think, and she wants to kill bakers to get her revenge upon those who have wronged her. So naturally, Wallace is her new target. To make it even more complicated, Gromit has fallen for her dog, Fluffles (Melissa Collier).
Wallace is lucky that Gromit is loyal. We know that he is capable of writing, even if he cannot talk, and we know that nothing they do succeeds without his efforts. We also know that all Piella would really have to do in order to ensure Wallace's death is to somehow dispose of Gromit. Without Gromit, Wallace would be lucky to live an hour and a half. Every business we see him undertake would fail without his cheerful assumption that Wallace will do all the hard work. He swings about on a rope, washing windows. He is the test subject for all those half-baked inventions. He has to be up in order to wake Wallace up, and we've even seen him forced to put on a sheep costume so that Wallace can count him over and over until Wallace falls asleep. Without Gromit, Wallace is screwed, and of course he doesn't even realize it. Gromit does, and most of the people they meet figure it out pretty quickly, but for whatever reason, Gromit doesn't just leave Wallace to die in a puddle of his own filth.
In many ways, this doesn't feel like a typical Wallace and Gromit short. I mean, okay, you do get the sly background references, but there are hardly any weird gadgets, and the main plot is a bit scarier. While Feathers McGraw does put in an appearance, if you squint, and there's a reference to Preston of "A Close Shave" that is similarly fleeting, this is the only Wallace and Gromit to feature death as an important plot point. Piella is obsessed with the idea of killing a baker's dozen of bakers. That's a little scarier than any of the other plots. Even in [i]Curse of the Were-Rabbit[/i], you don't have the sense that Victor Quartermaine is really competent to kill the ordinary rabbits, much less the were-rabbit. However, this short starts with a character's death. Oh, Gromit also gets a happy ending, and a well-deserved one, but it's still a little unpleasant. There's no blood, and you know that Wallace isn't going to actually get killed, but it's still a little out-of-place compared with the others.
I'd still watch another Wallace and Gromit short if they made one, but I kind of feel that the earliest two were the best. Gromit is still one of my favourite animated dogs--I resent bitterly that Piella accuses him of biting her, especially because he doesn't actually have a mouth. I'm glad he gets something good for once, instead of just going back to status quo at best. And I like to hope that maybe Fluffles can get a better name now, because that's, well, the sort of awful name a woman who lives in the past would give her poodle. 2009 was the only year Nick Park and Aardman Animation were nominated for an Oscar but didn't win. ("A Grand Day Out" lost, but it lost to Park's own "Creature Comforts.") I'm not sure I've seen "Logorama," the short that won that year, but I can see the Academy as having had exactly the same reaction to this one as I did--and not giving it the Oscar not because it wasn't as good as "Logorama" but because it wasn't as good as "The Wrong Trousers."
It'll please the kids, that's for sure. The adult-pleasing jokes felt sparse but hit the mark. The story lacked the usual quirky charm of Wallace and Gromit but it still pretty much worked. I enjoyed the film but overall felt it lacked elements that made the previous ones so brilliant, so for me it's a 7/10.