Half the charm of Nick Park's stop-motion-animation films is the sheer craft: Every detail implies hard work and literal hands-on attention, right down to the fingerprints on the characters' faces. The other half of the charm is those characters themselves. From the short film Creature Comforts through to 2000's Chicken Run, Park's work has centered on characters split evenly between painfully bright and earth-shatteringly dumb, but virtually all featuring a cheerful, big-hearted positivism that's rare in the Irony Age. Clever writing and whipcrack plotting haven't hurt any, but Park's upbeat characters and the indelible bonds between them are particularly unique.
And none are more memorable than Wallace, a garrulous, dim-witted-but-talented inventor, and his anthropomorphic but silent dog/companion/servant/partner Gromit. As voiced by Peter Sallis, Wallace is appealingly buoyant and utterly naïve, mostly oblivious to the havoc he causes, sometimes even when he's bearing its brunt. Gromit, for his part, is smart, tolerant, and unflaggingly loyal—man's best friend, but with opposable thumbs and the ability to drive, cook, and serve tea. They could almost be a classic smart guy/dumb guy comedy duo, but without the acerbic edge or sense of borderline-violent rivalry.
Their sweet, goofy dynamic continues neatly into their first full-length feature, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit. This time around, Wallace has his Rube Goldberg contraptions hard at work protecting his customers' gardens from marauding bunnies. In a community utterly obsessed with gardening—the annual Giant Vegetable Competition seems to be the only thing on anyone's mind—his service is invaluable, especially since the only alternative seems to be an arrogant, smug, Elvis-pompadoured hunter (Ralph Fiennes) with personal designs on Wallace's latest client, soft-hearted Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter). But when Wallace's latest bright idea backfires and sets a monstrous hybrid rabbit-monster loose on the town's prize veggies, Fiennes gets his chance at guns 'n' glory.
Park and his co-writer/co-director, Chicken Run key animator Steve Box, pack the screen with sight gags, puns, slapstick, and film references, notably from The Wolf Man, King Kong, and Watership Down, and they maintain a pace that's frenetic but not overwhelming. In Park's world, there's always time for a frantic combat to halt so the antagonists can take stock and present another joke before moving on. The humor edges against absurdism, but stays self-aware and witty, with that mild-mannered optimism presiding. Not all the plot points make sense, but they don't really need to. The film holds itself together on reckless charm and lovingly rendered gap-toothed grins.