“Curse that prevailing southwesterly”
Even though it debuted on British television in 2008, Nick Park’s newest installment in the (mis)adventures of his claymation pals Wallace and Gromit finally hit the States last year, just in time to be nominated for an Animated Short Oscar. I never had any interest in checking the work out, no matter how fun it appeared, but relented when Curse of the Were-Rabbit was released as a feature length film. Suffice it to say, my first foray into the world was not very good as the film fell flat for me and plodded along to its end. However, now having experienced A Matter of Loaf and Death, seeing how the material works in a condensed medium, I have to admit that the result was much better. By compacting all the humor in less than thirty minutes, the warm-hearted antics of naïve and imbecilic Wallace with stoically intelligent dog Gromit really do excel.
The premise is pretty stripped-down, concerning the duo in their new bakery, right in the midst of a serial killing spree of bakers. There have been twelve deaths thus far and no evidence in sight to find who is behind it all. To be honest, it doesn’t take very long to discern who is the culprit, so the fun really becomes watching Wallace bumble through life and Gromit do his best to save him. Once the Bake-O-Lite singer enters the fray, the plot continues on at a quick pace, never feeling slow or unwelcome. An ex-commercial model for the brand, Piella just happens to be bicycling down the road our titular bakers are delivering bread on, door-to-door like newspapers. She loses control and speeds down a hill where Wallace puts caution to the wind to save her, eventually beginning a budding relationship that never quite seems right—especially after Gromit inspects the bike post-accident.
What really makes this work succeed, besides the endearing voicework from Peter Sallis as Wallace and Sally Lindsay as Piella, are the massive amounts of sight gags. Sure it is always entertaining to watch Gromit work in his silent, but very expressive way, however, I hadn’t known how subversive the comedy really was. I don’t think a lot of that mature subject matter traveled across the Atlantic when the feature film was released, probably needing to tone it down a little to make it palatable to a broader audience. Being that A Matter of Loaf and Death was created specially for English television viewers, Park and company was able to keep their subtle innuendoes intact. Even those seemingly simplistic instances of bread rising and oven temperatures increasing become so much more than sheer bakery visuals when inter-cut with the blossoming romantic courtship of Wallace and Piella. It isn’t as though the references are too obvious for a younger audience, but they do make it a tad more fun for the adults watching. The inclusion of a Ghost homage definitely put a smile on my face too.
Completely deserving of a nomination—even though I believe it should have come last year, dealing with actual release dates rather than whenever Hollywood decides to allow us Americans to watch—Park seems to be back in the swing of things after the devastating fire that destroyed much of his clay constructed worlds at Aardman Studios. I would never suggest that he stay away from features and stick specifically to shorts, but I do believe something can be said on the subject. Perhaps Were-Rabbit just didn’t have the depth to succeed, and maybe it originated as a short and later was wrongly expanded, I really don’t know. Unless a plot is fleshed out that can handle the extra length, hopefully Wallace and Gromit will continue on with their adventures in small increments—staying relevant and always working their somewhat family-friendly magic.
Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death 8/10 | ★ ★ ★