Wallace and Gromit is the brainchild of animator Nick Park. The British filmmaker tried for years to bring his clay creations alive, but on his own finished a mere 10 minutes in a little over 2 years. When he met up with Aardman Animations, he was teamed up with the creative talents he needed to make his dream come alive, and come alive these two characters did indeed. They’ve become an overnight sensation in the UK and now all over the world. I was introduced to the characters with the full length feature Wallace And Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit. Sadly this “complete” collection does not include that longer film. This should more appropriately be called the Nearly Complete Collection Of Shorts.
I have to admit that I was completely won over by the magic of this creation. It’s so simple looking that it almost appears to be child’s play. The truth could not be further from the perception. Stop motion animation goes back to the beginning of the cinema itself. Pioneered by the genius Willis O’Brian and perfected by Ray Harryhausen, it is one of the most painstakingly tedious tasks in the film industry today. It has been all but abandoned except for a select few who still follow in the footsteps of greatness. Give Nick Park credit for keeping the art alive and making it look effortless.
Wallace is an inventor. His home is overflowing with various devices that have become a part of his daily routine. He has an automatic system for waking up and dressing him. He has automatic food dispensers. If there’s an overly complicated way to do something, Wallace has figured it out. Wallace is particularly fond of cheese. His dog, Gromit, might not say a word, but he’s the smart one in the family. He bores of Wallace’s devices and ideas and often ends up getting him out of trouble in the end. Their world is completely stop motion with most of the objects made out of clay just like the old Claymation days of old. Over the last decade or so there haven’t been a lot of adventures for the duo, but they have certainly appeared on many products from toothpaste holders to underwear.
The Blu-ray release comes with 4 adventures:
A Grand Day Out: (23:58) 1989
“Everybody knows the moon’s made out of cheese.”
Wallace is trying to figure out where exactly he and Gromit ought to go on holiday. When he discovers they are out of cheese, an idea suddenly comes to him. He decides that they should vacation somewhere known for cheese, like Philadelphia, or even better … the moon. So Wallace sets out to build a rocket ship, with Gromit’s invaluable assistance, of course. Then it’s light the fuse, take off the emergency brake and, oh don’t forget the crackers. What’s cheese without crackers? They make it to the moon where they encounter a caretaker robot. Can anyone say Wall-E? Of course, this was nearly a decade before the Pixar film. The robot finds one of Wallace’s vacation magazines and dreams of going skiing on the Alps. Unfortunately, there’s no room at all for their new mechanical friend, who is left behind to make do with what he has.
The Wrong Trousers: (30:20) 1993
“A bit rough on the re-entry.”
It’s Gromit’s birthday, and that old inventor has created something new for him, mechanical pants he has christened Techno Trousers. Hook up Gromit’s lead. Program the course. Before you know it Gromit’s taken for a walk while Wallace sits back to relax. Unfortunately, the gadget has set the pair back a bit in money. Wallace decides to rent out a room to help out with the expenses. When a penguin comes to answer the advert, Gromit is a bit suspicious. But, before long the penguin has taken Gromit’s room. He’s taken over his duties. And, he just might be thinking about taking off with his Techno Trousers. Feeling dejected, Gromit runs away into the chilly rainy night. The penguin has plans for Wallace and those pants. It appears he wants to use the device to get a little closer to a girl’s best friend. The only thing that might stop him is man’s best friend.
A Close Shave: (31:26) 1995
“There’s something fishy going on.”
Malfunctions are nothing new in the home of Wallace and his dog Gromit. This time the culprit might be a sheep who has escaped rustlers and is hiding out in their home. That might account for the bite marks in everything from the wiring to the box of porridge mix. When the rustlers discover Wallace’s Knit O Matic they decide to frame Gromit for the rash of sheep disappearances. Can Wallace and the sheep expose the real crooks before Gromit is sent up the river for life? This one’s a literal dog eat dog, if you ask me. Or maybe it’s a dog eat dog eat sheep world after all.
A Matter Of Loaf And Death: (30:13) 2008
“Another baker battered by his own rolling pin.”
Someone is killing the great chefs of Europe, or at least a few bakers in England. That’s bad news for Wallace and Gromit, who are now bread bakers running a dough to door service. When Wallace is romanced by the Bake O Lite Girl, former spokesperson for a large bakery outfit, Gromit is suspicious. Could the two events be connected? Gromit has to work double duty as a baker and detective to keep Wallace from becoming the final piece in a baker’s dozen dead bakers.
Each episode is offered in its original aspect ratio. The first two are full frame. The second is 1.66:1 and the final episode is in 1.78:1. You can see the evolution of the quality as the material spans almost two decades of technological improvements. Still, even the earliest does well in this 1080p image brought to you through a solid AVC/MPEG-4 codec. The colors are often bright and cartoony just as they were intended to be. There isn’t a heck of a lot of contrast in this material, and lighting appears almost too consistent. The best example of the high definition is that you can see all of the fingerprints in the clay. They’re often so clear I think you could do a screen capture and run them through AFIS. Tell Grissom we’ll have those prints ID’d in no time at all.
The 5.1 PCM Master Audio track is exactly what it has to be. There’s nothing really going on in the surrounds as best as I could tell. It’s all pretty much dialog and simple music and sound effects. The audio shouldn’t even be an issue in deciding if you want to pick this one up.
All of the shorts have commentary tracks that are extremely low key and so softly spoken that it might just put you to sleep. You won’t miss much as the speakers, mostly Nick Park, pat themselves on the back quite a bit. It must be that English humility I’m always hearing about.
Featurettes: There are 4 in all for about an hour worth of material. You can view them separately, but the only reason I can see for doing that is to get to the last 15 minutes which is where the best stuff is. Here you hear the story about how Nick Park got started and the beginnings of his partnership. You get some wonderful behind the scenes stuff on the miniature sets where you get to see the stop motion process in action. That’s absolutely the coolest stuff in the extras.
Scrapbook: This is basically a production gallery.
Cooking Contraptions: You can select 1 or all of 10 Wallace inventions and get a clip demonstrating its use.
Shaun The Sheep: (7:05) Some short vignettes featuring the character.
I’m a bit amazed at the popularity of something that has so little material out there. Certainly it’s cute and entertaining, but it just leaves you wanting more. I know. That’s what good stuff is supposed to do. But, does it need to keep us waiting quite so long? I was disappointed the feature film wasn’t included nor was there any information on the announced 2011 film in the works. It works because it’s one of a kind. Sure, it’s cheese, but “It’s like no cheese I’ve ever had before”.