By the standards of most vulgar, noisy, relentlessly coarse and stupid children's films, Aardman Animation's first feature-length film built around the stop-motion adventures of bumbling, oh-so-British inventor Wallace and his silent but clever dog, Gromit, looks like sheer genius. But in comparison to earlier Wallace & Gromit shorts (1989's A Grand Day Out (1989), 1993's The Wrong Trousers and 1995's A Close Shave), it's slack and attenuated, with only flashes of the bone-dry wit and goofy ingenuity that make them seem so fresh. Responding to the frenzy of giant-vegetable growing that has gripped their suburban English neighborhood, Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis) and Gromit are operating Anti-Pesto, a thriving humane vermin-removal business. Alerted by a series of motion-controlled garden-gnome alarms, they've captured untold numbers of adorable bunnies in the act of preying upon handsome pumpkins, aubergines and tomatoes destined for competition in the annual festival hosted by dithering Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter). Even the local vicar (Nicholas Smith) has gardening fever, praying for divine intervention on behalf of his carrots and making what look suspiciously like pagan harvest offerings on the church altar. As Wallace and Gromit's basement rapidly fills up with ravenous captured bunnies, Wallace decides to try an experimental behavior-modification procedure that goes terribly awry, bombarding one wee rabbit, whom they nickname Hutch, with a megadose of Wallace's own mental energy. Could Hutch be the terrifying were-rabbit that suddenly begins ravaging backyard vegetable patches and terrorizing the neighbors? Wallace, who's quite taken with the lovely and tenderhearted Lady Tottington, promises he'll capture the marauder compassionately, but he has to get to it before her jealous, gold-digging suitor, trigger-happy Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), who intends to blast the beast to kingdom come. The film is peppered with gentle references to classic horror films ranging from FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and KING KONG (1933) to (of course) THE WOLF MAN (1941), but its heart lies in Wallace's Rube Goldberg-esque inventions, of which the standout is Anti-Pesto's secret weapon, the divinely harebrained Bun-o-Vac. It suctions rabbits out of their warrens and drops them, unharmed, into a giant glass container, where they float gently on circling airstreams, noses a-twitch and flowing ears a-flap. Just one image so sublimely loopy — and the film contains several — makes the film eminently worth seeing, even if it leaves you wishing it were as consistently inventive as Aardman's first feature, CHICKEN RUN (2000).
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