Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Curse of the Where-Was-It?

Subject: Cinema
I was delighted to find that the recent Oscar winner for Animated Feature, Nick Park's "Curse of the Were-Rabbit", was on the Hi-Def "On Demand" selection on my cablebox. So I stocked up on some Wemblyville and crackers and fired it up.

...and, sadly, was a tad dissappointed.

I met Nick Park briefly at the the Ottawa International Festival of Animation in 1990, where he won for his short film "Creature Comforts" (recently a BBC series that will be on CBS here in the states very soon). His trademark Brit-humour-in-clay, as told by animals in a zoo, brought the house down. He was wearing a huge sparkling-green bow-tie -- another trademark, as witnessed by his Oscar acceptance.

Subsequent festivals introduced me to the "Wallace & Gromit" franchise. Absolute classics, culminating in what was probably the Best Short Clay Animation Ever, "The Wrong Trousers" -- the pentultimate Penguin Jewel Theif Caper Film ever. Everything about that film was dead-on rip-roaring hilarious.

The first feature-length "Wallace & Gromit" film, "A Close Shave", followed shortly thereafter, and I have fond memories of that as well, but not quite as seared in my conciousness as "The Wrong Trousers".

Sadly, "Curse of the Were-Rabbit", while valiantly attempting to recreate the ingredients that made "Trousers" so successful, failed at continuing the magic that the earlier works managed to bring to the screen.

It lacked a lot of the subtle wit I remembered. And the embodiment of that wit was in the visual timing of Gromit's reactions to Wallace's clueless bumbling. The timing back then was so stellar, so dead-on deadpan, that you couldn't help but laugh contagiously. The moments, the jokes, the homages and visual puns -- all brilliant in their understated Britishness. And "Curse" lost most of that.

It had the distinctly bland taste of "written by committee" to it; like a vacuum-wrapped slice of Kraft American Cheese on white bread. It wasn't without it's moments, sure. And the animation, the attention-to-detail; all of that was quite well done, as well it should be considering the pedigree of the creative team. But the execution and package as a whole was greatly dissappointing compared to my expectations set by memories of past triumphs.

I could be seeing it through a haze of nostalgia; perhaps the older installments were just as superficial, but had more impact in an audience of fellow animation-lovers. But I think I'm pretty sure that something was legitimately lacking this time. Sad.

That said, I'm still looking forward to the domestic airing of the "Creature Comforts" series. I hope it captures at least a little of the old spark.

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