Saturday, October 22, 2005

Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

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—2. Overview Basic (dial up speed)
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—6. Trailers, Clips, DVDs, Books, Soundtrack
—7. Posters
—8. Production Notes (pdf)
—9. Spiritual Connections


WALLACE & GROMITTonight my wife Jay & I just got back from seeing the new ‘Wallace & Gromit’ film, and as I sit here typing, a big part of me feels like hopping back in the car and rushing back to watch it again. I was reminded why I love movies in the first place, and also why I love stop-motion animation. I think anyone who loves movies would feel the same way after seeing this one.

For one thing, it’s made for people who love movies, particularly those partial to monster movies and classic sci-fi/horror films. There are homages to Metropolis, King Kong, The Wolfman, American Werewolf in London, the Hammer horror genre, Beauty & the Beast, and touches of Rube Goldberg, Chaplin, and a unique brand of British humor that is purely Aardman, made famous by the genius of Wallace & Gromit’s creator Nick Park himself. The familiar elements are all there: the elderly fire-and-brimstone vicar, the forbidden romance, the villainous ‘Gaston’-type, carrying the damsel to the rooftop, the rooftop chase and the death/resurrection ending. It was all stuff we’ve seen before, but we were glad to see it. There was nothing forced or fake about it…it was pure cinema.

EnlargeAnimation is the purest cinema you can get, because animated characters are essentially symbolic. Jim Henson said this about his Muppet characters, who are close cousins to the frame-by-frame variety: “A puppet is a symbol of whatever you’re trying to portray, therefore an evil character can be truly evil; it can be evil incarnate. You’re not dealing with an ‘actor’ who you are ‘imagining’ in that role, so there’s a kind of purity to it.” The irony is that through these symbolic characters, who are about 18 inches high and made of clay, we see true reflections of ourselves.

The reflective theme in this film that resonated with me was in the townspeople and how protective they are of their prize vegetables. Their whole way of life is driven by the annual vegetable contest and their desire to win the top prize. Their obsession is such that they go to extreme measures to keep their vegetables safe, using fancy alarm systems and ridiculous technological gadgets to watch over them. Not even the vicar is immune to it. We all have ‘things’ in our lives like this…we store them under lock & key to keep them safe from any harm or interference, whether it be jewelry, cars, money, etc. We sometimes protect our material possessions and idolize them to the point where they are as precious to us as our own children. This is brilliantly parodied in the film, where vegetables are literally treated as such: the old woman running away with hers in a baby carriage, and Gromit lovingly caressing his prize watermelon. (I confess I’ve done this with my DVD & record collection.)

EnlargeOn a deeper level, we have more abstract things in our lives that we protect from being tampered with by the outside world. We are not only protective of our toys, but things like pride, addiction, jealousy, lust….our deepest secrets and nasty habits we just can’t seem to let go of….our “precious”…..our “ring” that we lovingly caress….our sin. The more we cling to it, the more it will consume us, as it does Gollum or Frodo. Indeed, we must kill this part of ourselves (as the animated vicar says, ‘the beast within!’) in order to overcome it. Only through a sacrifice can this part of ourselves be killed.

When Gromit sees that Wallace’s life is in danger, he cuts the ‘umbilical cord’ of his treasured watermelon and takes the risk of taking it out of its ‘womb’ into the dangerous world beyond. Through the climactic chase and daring rescue mission, the watermelon is sacrificed. Gromit has a brief moment of mourning for his prize, but moves on to save Wallace and doesn’t look back. Ultimately, the two friends end up saving each other and risking their lives in order to be reunited again. Our possessions are valuable and can bring us much comfort and joy in this life, but are nothing compared to the comfort and joy of relationships that are intended to last in this lifetime and the next.

As we were discussing these points during the end credits, Jay reminded me of a recent news event. A few days after the premiere of Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the Aardman studio archives burned to the ground. The entire history of the studio and its previous Oscar-winning short films and features is gone forever. At a time when the studio should have been celebrating the fact that their new film opened at No. 1 at the box office, they were faced with a terrible loss. However, Nick Park was quoted as saying, “Even though it is a precious and nostalgic collection and valuable to the company, in light of other tragedies, today isn’t a big deal.” The ‘other tragedy’ he was referring to was the earthquake in South Asia. In a classic case of life imitating art, he relayed the same sentiment that his film is all about.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
-Matthew 6:19-21

—1. Overview (multimedia)
—2. Overview Basic (dial up speed)
—3. Reviews and Blogs
—4. Cast and Crew
—5. Photo Pages
—6. Trailers, Clips, DVDs, Books, Soundtrack
—7. Posters
—8. Production Notes (pdf)
—9. Spiritual Connections