Anyone who picks up Wallace & Gromit’s World Of Invention expecting to see the rollicking adventures of Nick Park’s beloved claymation characters is bound to be disappointed. This six-episode BBC series isn’t a continuation of Aardman Animation’s Oscar-winning, internationally popular Wallace & Gromit shorts. Instead, this time out the bumbling, sweater-vested inventor Wallace and his resourceful, silent dog Gromit serve only as hosts for video packages about unusual and/or innovative inventions from around the world. The host segments are brief and slapstick-y, in the spirit of the W&G shorts but a little cruder. Frankly, this series could’ve excised its presenters entirely and nothing of value would be lost.
That said, the non-animated segments of Wallace & Gromit’s World Of Invention are both informative and entertaining, in the tradition of such all-ages science shows as Bill Nye The Science Guy and Wild Kingdom. As Extras star Ashley Jensen narrates, the World Of Invention crew documents scientists and amateurs who’ve come up with useful ways to tap remote power sources, or to improve life around the house, or to help the handicapped. In each episode, veteran scientific TV presenter Jem Stansfield heads into the field to cover failed inventions, from Albert Einstein’s design for a refrigerator to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s attempt to shoot passenger trains through vacuum tubes, and each episode also looks back at the history of some inventions and inventors.
While there’s nothing especially unusual about the style or presentation of Wallace & Gromit’s World Of Invention—aside from the non-human hosts, of course—the series does have a point of view that’s both wry and optimistic. It takes a broad view on human endeavor and how we keep trying to improve ourselves, often by creating new devices and new processes that are prohibitively expensive compared to what we already have. And yet every now and then our trial-and-error produces something useful—even life-changing. That “chin up, carry on” positivity to World Of Invention is what connects it most to the Wallace & Gromit franchise, even more so than Wallace and Gromit themselves.
Key features: Instructions for viewers to build their own inventions. It would’ve been nice if the W&G “Cracking Contraptions” shorts had been included as well, but no soap.