What a great day when I can go to the theater and see two fantastic stop motion animated movies in a row! First up, a pair of reviews: Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride.
First I saw the new Wallace & Gromit movie by Aardman Animations. Being a huge fan of the previously released animated shorts, it’s no surprise that I was a little disappointed in this movie… hahaha! Not really! Did I say “a little disappointed”? Replace that with “completely satisfied”! Oh man, you should have seen your face… the old “switcheroo” never fails!
I had unreasonably high expectations for this movie and all of them were met, as I was sure they would be. Wallace & Gromit pulls off the rare feat of making a true family film, something that everyone should enjoy. It has genuinely funny cutesy “humour”. You haven’t seen cute until you’ve seen a dog compulsively knit as a form of stress relief. There’s even a couple of good sly adult jokes that most kids won’t pick up on (including a few references to horror films old and new). I have to wonder though if a lot of the overtly British slang and humor won’t just fly right under most children’s radars.
The animation is fantastic. Each character’s movement suits them and looks completely plausible. The artist’s fingerprints are clearly visible on the models, which creates a great self referential aesthetic that heightens the honesty and believability of the medium. The art direction is a little… I guess “square” is the word I’m looking for (and I don’t mean the shape). But it seamlessly corresponds with the humor and mood, so it’s not at all bothersome.
The strongest point of Wallace & Gromit movies is always the character development and the storytelling, and this may be some of Aardman’s strongest yet. Not a moment of the film fails to develop the characters or story even further than the moment before. Not just Wallace and Gromit themselves, but every member of the town is complete and whole. Gromit himself is surely one of the best all time best animated characters.The storyline is incredibly full. Scenes and locations are especially well utilized as each sets up for something that happens later. Nothing is invented purely out of necessity. There are also scenes in the movie that feature just the members of the supporting cast, which is always a strong indication that there is an actual story going on. That’s something you’ll be hard pressed to find in any animated film released in the last few years. Bottom line: everything in this movie is so incredibly inventive that it’s awe inspiring.
If pressed to say something negative about this movie, I would say that at times I was a teensy bit bored. But I think that may just be chalked up to it being a British film. Having been raised with the American cinema, my attention span is pitifully small.
All in all, every aspect of this movie is very well crafted. In some ways that can hurt a piece. Remember Sideways? A very well done movie. Well written, well acted, well directed, well scored… and even weller boring. Set the bar too evenly high on everything and the ground raises with it.
But please don’t let a comparison to Sideways deter you from seeing this movie- go see it. Right now. You’re on the internet, you have time.
And then there’s Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride, coming in at a meesly hour and sixteen minutes.
Don’t let it fool you- The Corpse Bride is a Disney movie. There is a lot of stupid Disney “humor”. Stupid comedic relief animal sidekicks, dogs sniffing each other’s butts, and skeletons making jokes about being dead that would make even Army of Darkness cringe (“C’mere baby, and let me BONE you!”- just kidding, they don’t say that). There is really no characterization to speak of. The good guy is really good, the bad guy is really bad, and everyone else turns good at the end. The movie is not as outlandish as Nightmare Before Christmas (and really can’t hold a candle to that masterwork as a whole). And I’m sorry, but musical numbers just seem like filler to me. Except in The Sound of Music, and that movie is like three days long. You need to freakin take off work to watch it.
But let me tell you one thing. The jaw dropping art direction in this movie will make you not care one little bit about all of these numerous and major faults. Every inch of every shot is beautiful, and the overall style has somehow managed to out-Edward Gorey Edward Gorey. I honestly don’t remember the last movie I saw that was this good looking. I especially like how the real world is depicted as drab and pale, and the land of the dead as more colorful than a David LaChapelle photograph. Yes, this is one of a small handful of movies where great visuals make up for a lack of content. And solely for this reason alone does this movie also get a “go see it” stamp of approval.
Maybe I was a bit too harsh on Corpse Bride because I saw it forty-five minutes after Wallace & Gromit, and comparisons and fatigue took their toll. But I don’t think so. And keep in mind that both of these movies are likely light years ahead (obligatory internet Star Wars reference!) of anything else you could possibly see in the theater not just now, but any time.
Too bad now that both great stop-motion animation have put out a movie at the same time we’ll have to wait five years before a single other one hits (although we do have The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Wes Anderson and Henry Selick already in pre-production).
Wallace & Gromit
Story: 9 Acting: 7 Direction: 8 Visuals: 7 Sound: 6 Editing: 7 Pre-pubescent children who told me to “shhh!”: 1 Moral: Eat your veg!
Story: 4 Acting: 7 Direction: 6 Visuals: 10 Sound: 7 Editing: 4 Annoying people making out behind me: 4 Hot corpses: 1 Moral: “The best laid plans…”