There has got to be an audience for the quirky claymation characters of Wallace and Gromittwo of their shorts in the 1990s went on to win Academy Awards, and there seems to be a fairly rabid cult followingbut count me out of that enthusiastic group. Their first foray into feature-length format, "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," is the least funny, least charming, and most interminable animated film of the year. A half-baked, kid-friendly parody of monster movies and buddy comedies that would prompt hatred for its utter emptiness if it weren't so boring, directors Nick Park and Steve Box are set adrift without a clue as to how to fill up the brief, yet endless, 85-minute running time. Wallace and Gromit may be enjoyable enough in small doses, but there is so little substance behind their Play-Doh eyes that stretching them beyond their limit of tolerability only means trouble.
Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) and Gromit (voiced by dead air), the former an amateur inventor and the latter the most silent dog in history, are best friends who work by day as humane exterminators. With the Giant Vegetable Competition just right around the bend, these two set out to get rid of the residents' in-garden rabbit infestations. Around the time that an experiment involving Wallace and one of the bunnies goes awry, the town is terrorized by an oversized rabbit/werewolf hybrid that is set loose underneath the September full moon. Is Wallace the unknowing culprit himself, and if so, what can Gromit possibly do to save his life-long buddy?
Director Nick Park's last studio picture, 2000's "Chicken Run
," was a wonderful animated film that interjected a crowd-pleasing story with its own witty brand of British humor, but his success runs dry with "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." The premise this time is original enough, and one can imagine how it could have made for another splendid family picture, but the deal-breaker is that there is no life to any of it. For a movie with his name in the title, Wallace barely appears after the first half-hour or so, leaving Gromit, an undynamic and dull canine protagonist, to pick up the slack.
The comedy, most of it relying on visual gags or one-liners, is groan-inducing rather than funny, the pace is creaky and meandering in the worst way, and attempts at creating suspense from the threat of the Were-Rabbit fall flat. The tone is simply too airy to pose a threat, and there is never a doubt that all will turn out well in the end. As for the supporting characters, none make an impression except for Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), the kind-hearted, slightly daft sponsor of the Giant Vegetable Competition. Ralph Fiennes' vocal work is pure caricature as the human villain of the piece, Victor Quartermaine, who wants to kill the monster rabbit with a 24-carat gold bullet.
Having not been very familiar with Wallace and Gromit prior to this big screen version, "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" certainly did nothing to make me a fan. This is a chaotic mess of a film, one that fans might like by principle and all others need not apply; even the most ardent followers will probably have to admit this first feature film from the silly duo is pretty strained and shallow. If heroes in movies, especially ones that come alive through animated means, need at least a little charm to carry them through the narrative, Wallace and Gromit are left wanting. To be fair, the look of the film is bright and enjoyable enough on its own terms, even though there is a missed opportunity with Halloween coming up (the marketing materials suggesting this is a holiday-themed project are sorely misleading). Otherwise, "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" is one-note, listless D-grade junk, about as tedious as theatrically-released animated pics get.