Thursday, February 26, 2009

Claymation: Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers (1993, Nick Park)

Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers (1993)
UK, 30 min
Directed by: Nick Park
Written by: Nick Park (writer), Bob Baker (writer), Brian Sibley (additional screenplay)
Starring: Peter Sallis
There's no use prevaricating about the bush, Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers (1993) is a whole heap of fun! Having not seen the film in years, I'd almost forgotten that it was so uproariously entertaining. It was Creature Comforts (1989) that took home the Oscar in 1991, but Nick Park instead planned a sequel to A Grand Day Out with Wallace and Gromit (1989), a short film that, in my estimation, showed far more promise. This next effort sees the pair with their feet firmly on terra firma, but in an adventure that is no less wacky than the last. Despite economic woes, Wallace has built a impressive contraption for Gromit's birthday – a pair of mechanical trousers. To offset his financial losses, Wallace opens up his home to lodgers, attracting the business of a creepy and silent penguin named Feathers McGraw. The sinister flightless avian soon sets about systematically severing the immortal bond between master and pet, in preparation for a devilishly cunning heist scheme.

Nick Park's films are held in reverence by the animation community, and with good cause. Rarely before had the claymation medium been utilised to create such rich animated characters; even previous successes like Closed Mondays (1974) couldn't evade the fact that they were produced using shifting masses of clay. The Wrong Trousers boasts but three characters – only one of whom can speak – and yet the relationship between the three is superbly authentic. Maybe it's the personal touch of recognising the animators' thumb-prints on every character, but somehow Park manages to capture every nuance of their behaviour, every tiny inflection of emotion. In half an hour, Gromit doesn't utter a single word, and yet he communicates his sadness, anger and excitement through an affectionate glance or downcast eye. Likewise, the sinister Feathers McGraw attains creepiness precisely through his silence. That he doesn't speak keeps his motives veiled in secrecy, and those beady, ominous eyes are probably enough to give young children nightmares.

Of course, most people love The Wrong Trousers for its humour, and there's plenty of it. That sparkling British humour is truly allowed to shine, and the gentle voice-acting of Peter Sallis has the sheer sincerity to carry the frequently-offbeat jokes. Whereas A Grand Day Out was a homage of sorts to the science-fiction genre, probably more in line with Georges Méliès than anyone else, this effort is an affectionate satire of the British crime films of the 1950s and 1960s. The evil penguin has the eccentric malevolence of Alec Guinness in The Ladykillers (1955), though without the fondness for articulate speech. The object of the villainous heist scheme resembles the titular jewel in The Pink Panther (1964). With mock seriousness, amateur sleuth Gromit paces his way through the clichés of the genre, culminating in a hilarious madcap locomotive chase along miniature train-tracks, which our hero must lay down as he goes. This sort of impeccable entertainment deserves to run for far longer than thirty minutes.

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