The Films of Aardman Animations
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (October 30/06)
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a cute and pleasant (yet essentially forgettable) animated film featuring the first big-screen appearance of Nick Park's beloved clay creations, Wallace and Gromit. After accidentally unleashing the titular creature upon the populace, the pair must pull out all the stops to ensure the safety of their quaint town's various vegetables. Though never quite laugh-out-loud funny, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit does possess a number of genuinely humorous moments - which, when combined with the easy-going, thoroughly likable nature of these characters, ensures that the film remains fairly engaging throughout. The admittedly jaw-dropping animation certainly goes a long way towards alleviating the action-oriented third act, while the voice-over work is uniformly superb (Ralph Fiennes, as the villainous Victor Quartermaine, is a standout). The end result is a film that's engaging enough to warrant a mild recommendation, though it's clear that children will probably find more to embrace here than adults.
Though colorful and fast-paced, Flushed Away nevertheless possesses an oddly uninvolving vibe; the almost total lack of substance ensures that most viewers will have an awfully hard time finding much here to embrace, though the computer animation (a first for Aardman) is surprisingly impressive. The story revolves around the adventures of a domesticated rat named Roddy (Hugh Jackman), whose cushy existence is threatened after he's flushed down the toilet and sent to an elaborate underground world populated by a variety of unusual critters. Along with the help of fellow rat and obvious love interest Rita (Kate Winslet), Roddy must stop the nefarious Toad (Ian McKellan) from successfully drowning the aforementioned city. Featuring a screenplay by no less than five writers, Flushed Away has clearly been geared to appeal primarily to small children - as evidenced by the film's emphasis on action-oriented set pieces and distinctly broad bits of comedy (there's even a fart joke thrown in for good measure). And although the stellar voice work certainly goes a long way towards keeping things mildly interesting (Jean Reno, as a French mercenary named Le Frog, is an obvious stand-out), there's little doubt that the film is destined to disappoint even the most ardent Aardman fan.
An absolutely disastrous piece of work, Arthur Christmas details the chaos that ensues in the North Pole after a little girl's present slips through the cracks on Christmas Eve and goes undelivered - with the film subsequently following the title character (James McAvoy) as he and a few volunteers embark on a quest to ensure that the kid gets her gift. It's clear right from the get-go that Arthur Christmas has been geared exclusively towards very small children, as the film boasts a slick, fast-paced sensibility that seems to have been designed to mask its complete and utter emptiness (ie there's just nothing here for viewers over a certain age). The film's pervasively underwhelming atmosphere is perpetuated by the inclusion of several eye-rollingly misguided sequences (eg Santa and a few elves are trapped inside a child's bedroom), with the resulting lack of momentum ensuring that the episodic midsection, which revolves primarily around Arthur's ongoing efforts at finding said little girl's house, fares especially poorly and is, for the most part, nothing short of interminable. The increasingly action-oriented bent of Sarah Smith and Peter Baynham's frenetic screenplay, coupled with the worst and most needless 3D on display in years, slowly-but-surely transforms Arthur Christmas into a seriously headache-inducing ordeal, with the end result an obvious low point in the Aardman Animations' filmography (and this isn't even taking into account the often unintelligible nature of many of the voice performances).
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!
Shaun the Sheep Movie (December 9/15)
An exceedingly delightful animated film, Shaun the Sheep Movie follows the title character as he and other farm animals make their way to the big city to find their missing owner - with problems ensuing as the creatures raise the ire of a vicious, tenacious animal-control officer. The film, which is based on a television series (which was itself a spinoff from the Wallace & Gromit franchise), boasts a tremendously appealing stop-motion animation style that's heightened by an assortment of affable characters, and it's worth noting, too, that the movie's total absence of dialogue in no way hinders one's ability to get caught up in the briskly-paced narrative. Filmmakers Mark Burton and Richard Starzak keep things interesting by including a handful of memorable and unexpectedly hilarious images and set pieces, with the recurring gag featuring an angry jailhouse dog provoking hearty laughs with each and every appearance. The predictably action-packed final stretch doesn't fare quite as well as all that precedes it, unfortunately, which does ensure that Shaun the Sheep Movie ends on a somewhat underwhelming note - although this hardly diminishes the impact of what is otherwise a thoroughly entertaining little animated endeavor.