Whether it’s hand-drawn, computer-generated, or (as in the case of Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit series), stop-motion figures, animation’s often about getting one detail right. Witness Gromit, the faithful canine companion of the doddering, cheese-fixated inventor and jack-of-all-trades Wallace: He doesn’t speak—in fact, we hardly ever see his mouth—and his deadpan body language lets his eyebrows do most of his emoting. But those eyebrows say a lot, letting viewers know in an instant whether the much-put-upon dog feels satisfied, contemplative, or, most often, worried his master has made another life-threatening mistake.
Created by Nick Park, Wallace and Gromit first met the world with the years-in-the-making 1989 short “A Grand Day Out,” which sent them to the moon in search of cheese. But the series really found its voice with 1993’s Oscar-winning “The Wrong Trousers,” a Hitchcock-inspired thriller in which the pair’s sleepy Lancashire home gets upset by a shady penguin lodger. “Trousers” smoothed out its predecessor’s rough edges and let Park send up classic suspense movie tropes while re-creating them, balancing funny, kid-friendly gags with references sure to be appreciated most by savvy film fans and suspenseful action scenes, never mind that those in peril were made out of clay and wire. The subsequent 1995 short, “A Close Shave” and the 2005 feature The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit built on the formula.
Despite its title, Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection does not feature the excellent Were-Rabbit. But it does collect all the familiar shorts, a healthy selection of extras and, best of all, the brand-new “A Matter Of Loaf And Death,” in which the pair runs an old-fashioned bakery—windmill and all—but find themselves in trouble when a serial killer starts offing all the bakers in town. Hewing close to the formula of “The Wrong Trousers,” still the series’ finest hour, “Loaf” returns to Hitchcock terrain, complete with an icy, if unlikely, blonde femme fatale. But it also throws in some unexpected references to one modern-era blockbuster and gives Gromit a long-overdue love interest in the form of a similarly loyal poodle. (There’s more to life than cheese, after all.) Here’s hoping the pair’s cozy perils go on forever and someone will have to issue another complete collection soon.
Key features: Each feature gets a recycled making-of doc and a commentary track.