When something strange in the neighborhood vegetable gardens is terrorizing your prize squash, who do you call? Clay-animation's brightest stars hop to the task of saving the local produce from a night of gruesome vegetable carnage in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Graduating from their award-winning comic shorts to make their feature-film debut, Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis), a cheese-chomping tinkerer of inventions of questionable merit, and Gromit, his silently stoic canine protector who is more nanny and housekeeper than pet, find their neighbors gripped with veggie-mania as the annual Giant Vegetable Competition nears. "What would we do without our vegetables?" one villager cries out empathically by way of explanation, clutching the front of her blouse. "We're simple people! We'd be lost without them!"
Our intrepid twosome, who have meanwhile been reaping a tidy profit with their humane pest-busting operation, "Anti-Pesto," quickly root out the cause of the destruction: a proliferation of bunnies which are multiplying like, well, you know. Anti-Pesto's "humane" method of disposal involves dumping the rabbits into neat little hutches housed in the basement of their cottage. Naturally, the bunnies rebel and escape from their confines to wreck domestic hijinks, squealing with dastardly glee all the way.
The anxious organizer of the competition, Lady Tottington (masterfully voiced with aristocratic hippie-dippiness by Helena Bonham Carter) commissions the duo to rid her expansive grounds--which is starting to look like a rampageous putting green--of a rabbit infestation, without hurting the dear little creatures. "They can't help it," she twitters wistfully. "It's in their little bunny natures."
Much to the chagrin of Lady "Call Me Totty" Tottington's trigger-happy suitor, Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes in a riotously smarmy turn), Wallace and Gromit roll out the Bun-Vac 6000, part-containment unit, part-highly-evolved-vacuum thingie, which then proceeds to suck up the bunnies with a satisfying series of fwa-thumps. Within the machine's glass chamber, a few dozen airborne bunnies float about in a surreal aerial ballet, looking adorably stunned and bemused.
Of course, the little critters are the least of the town's problem as a monstrous, fuzzy offshoot of their bobtailed family tree skulks onto the scene, and begins gorging himself on the veritable smorgasbord of tomatoes, cauliflowers, pumpkins, cabbages, and melons that are to be entered in the competition.
Directed by Nick Park and Steve Box, and based on a screenplay by Steve Box, Nick Park, Max Burton, and Bob Baker, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is rampant with visual puns and double entendres that occasionally bogged the narrative and caused the need to stifle groans. When Quartermaine asks the Vicar for a way to defeat the beast, he is told that the Were-Rabbit can only be killed with a gold bullet. "Gold?" Quartermaine asks, momentarily stumped. The Vicar flashes a toothy grin and declares: "24 CARAT!"
There's little doubt that kids will love this movie, though. One particular scene stands out: The Were-Rabbit howls at the moon, and all over the countryside, little groups of bunnies simultaneously thump their chests and let out a great loud "Awooooooo." The second time this happens, the children in the audience catch on, joining the rabbit troop onscreen in echoing the great beast's call. It's pure magic.
(Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit opens October 7. Running time: 85 minutes, Rated G.)