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A grand day out for Wallace and Gromit

Analise Lipari | Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Over 15 years ago, the world first came to know a certain pair of clay-animated figures. It was in a short film describing a space voyage to the moon in pursuit of perfect cheese – a lunar trip taken by middle-aged Englishman Wallace and his trusted dog, Gromit.

Despite being somewhat foiled in their quest by a robot who wishes only to learn to ski, the pair came out successfully in the end with a stash of moon cheese.

Since that first short, “A Grand Day Out,” Wallace and Gromit have expanded their success in two other short films and a recent feature, “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”

Now attracting such famous talents as Helena Bonham-Carter and Ralph Fiennes, director Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit, no more than a daffy, cheese-loving inventor and his steadfast and brilliant canine companion, have grown in popularity and prestige to become one of the most well-known and beloved man-and-dog pairs in recent movie history.

Inventor, dog owner, entrepreneur, cheese connoisseur – Park’s Wallace is both brilliant at his scientific pursuits and slightly “out of it” when it comes to the practicality of using his inventions.

For example, in “The Wrong Trousers,” the first W&G short to win an Academy Award, Wallace invents his famous pair of mechanical trousers, only to be left clueless when the pants are manipulated by an evil penguin to steal a famous diamond from a nearby museum.

The outlandish nature of his inventions – such as a mind-manipulating device in “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” – adds to both Wallace’s amusing character and the films’ fun and subtly wacky nature.

Wallace’s sweet personality, shining bald head and love of Cheddar, Stilton and Camembert make for a great and winning protagonist for each of the four W&G films.

Forget Air Bud, Beethoven or even Nana from the recent remake of “Peter Pan” – few on-screen canines can hold a candle to Park’s Gromit.

Where Wallace, despite his daffiness, is usually the brains of any W&G operation, Gromit is the practicality, the performer of the grunt work and the source of each film’s wry and loyal perspective.

Gromit is the more domestic of the pair, as he cooks, vacuums, gardens and tends to Wallace’s outrageously intricate inventions.

Gromit, who is the only character in Park’s universe who never speaks, expresses his affection for – and often exasperation with – his owner with silent-film-type gestures, facial expressions and funny, almost human behavior.

During more stressful times in each film, Gromit tends to take up his signature knitting needles. A loyal, intelligent and downright funny canine, Gromit is the perfect balance for Wallace in this comedy team.

Starting with “A Grand Day Out,” animator Nick Park has since created three more Wallace and Gromit films, “The Wrong Trousers,” “A Close Shave” and “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” in the somewhat old-school clay animation style.

“I like this medium. It’s the kind of medium you can improvise on because it’s all happening in front of the camera,” said Park in a recent interview with Moviehole.net.

In a time where CGI animation is the norm, Wallace and Gromit are both bucking trends and winning audiences worldwide.

Whether just one short is enough to whet a viewer’s palate or all four films are seen marathon-style, watching any Wallace and Gromit flick is a great way to spend an afternoon.