Just like Disney is known as the master of classical animation and Pixar is known as the master of computer generated animation, the master of stop-motion clay animation (or claymation for short) is most definitely Aardman Animation. This British based animation studio started out with some short films which were very well received. Over the years, they have moved into more feature length claymation films. Even if they use computers to aid in their productions, their style is still distinctly that of their origins: claymation. And yet, what I find most charming about the works of Aardman Animation is their humor. Their comedic style is distinctly British and can sometimes be just plain goofy. This week’s two films look at some notable feature length films from the talent at Aardman Animation.
Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Length: 85 minutes / 1.42 hours
Going back to the Disney and Pixar comparisons, if Disney’s mascot is Mickey Mouse and Pixar’s is Luxo Jr., Aardman Animation was founded on the success of Wallace and Gromit. Even though they had a few short films and TV spots, it wasn’t until they started making shorts with an eccentric inventor and his dog that they hit upon something special. While they had won an Oscar for Best Animated Short before, Aardman Animation won two more with the Wallace and Gromit shorts The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave (A Grand Day Out and A Matter of Loaf and Death were only nominees). When it came time to make a feature length film with the dynamic duo, it was no wonder that the Academy Awards smiled on Aardman again with a win for Best Animated Picture for Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Most of the charm of Wallace and Gromit comes from Gromit who (being a dog) must resort to non-verbal actions to convey his emotions. As such, a lot of the comedy comes from how Gromit reacts to the ridiculous situations that Wallace gets them into. Always the inventive entrepreneur, Wallace’s most recent venture is one of pest control. Delivering the service of removing unwanted rabbits from gardens, Wallace attempts to get to the root of the problem with a brainwashing invention that doesn’t quite work right. As a result, now there is a mysterious 6-foot tall rabbit rampaging across the countryside. Unfortunately, whenever the beast appears, Wallace is nowhere to be found, so it’s up to Gromit’s plethora of skills to figure out the mystery of the Were-Rabbit and to stop it from striking again.
Length: 84 minutes / 1.4 hours
The first Oscar that Aardman Animation won was for an animated short called Creature Comforts. In this short, they used audio from interviews conducted in a “man on the street” style that were then used as a basis for the visuals, which were zoo animals being interviewed about their living conditions. As such, it became apparent that Aardman was skilled at bringing animals to life, so when it came time for them to make their first feature length film, the main characters that they landed upon were chickens. While it would have been nice to see Wallace and Gromit as their first feature length film, the fact remains that Aardman needed to get its name out there before bringing forth its pride and joy. Chicken Run is a classic, recognizable plot with some choice American influences, while still retaining Aardman’s British wit.
Evoking imagery from many war-camp films, Chicken Run tells the story of a handful of chickens who feel oppressed in their current farm environment. As they are forced to produce a set number of eggs, the chickens who can’t cut it mysteriously disappear, never to be heard from again. Then, in flies Rocky (Mel Gibson). This American Rooster crashes the party and gives many of the hens some hope of escape. Unfortunately, Rocky can’t fly, so this grounded bird must rely on the ingenuity of the others to help him escape as well. And yet, the farm’s owners get a machine that will help them make more money with the chickens that don’t make enough eggs. Soon, it’s a race against the clock to escape as the egg quotas are raised and the machine becomes operational. Will the hens fly the coop in time?
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 amazing works by Aardman Animation