For those of you who don't know, the Wallace and Gromit franchise is a series of animated shorts and a feature length film, focused on the adventures on a man and his dog. A British claymation spawned in the late Eighties, the dumbfounded inventor, Wallace, and his long suffering canine, Gromit, stand as symbols of my childhood. They retain themes of love, loss and cheese and crackers. In this respect, they are very British to the point where icons.org.uk stated that the pair have "[done] more to improve the image of the English world-wide than any officially appointed ambassadors". the shorts have been aired many times in my home country of Australia, despite the last one premiering in 1995. Until recently, that is. The latest in the collection of shorts aired on December the 3rd in my country, at eight o'clock. The film, entitled A matter of Loaf and Death, is a disappointment, in my opinion. It achieves fairly in its own right but, like the latest Bond flick, cannot hold it's head high in the company of its kin.
The film starts the same as its predecessors, with the camera panning across photographs, a device used to key the viewer in to the chronology of the central characters, this time giving hints that they have taken up baking. The camera cuts to a baker at night, turning to see what we assume is a familiar face, only to scream and raise his arms in defense. We then see Wallace and Gromit going about there morning ritual of delivering bread. During this drive, Wallace sees a hefty woman riding a bicycle, which he identifies as his heartthrob, the model for Bak-O-Lite, albeit a tad larger. Then, the less-than-dainty lass loses control of her bike, leading Wallace and Gromit to an impromptu rescue. After saving her, Wallace becomes infatuated with the woman, Piella. Though she often disappears for hours at a time, while the baker serial killer continues his reign of terror on the streets. The plot is not all too hard to predict, but keep in mind this is a children's program and such veins are expected.
I have many problems with this picture, firstly it's dark tone. The opening scenes involving the baker's murder are perhaps the most violent in the series, though this level of non-benevolence is far below that of many modern TV shows. However, the last few minutes are blacker that night (I'm talking one of the cute claymation characters attempting to kill itself). Its these dark themes that unnerve me whilst watching Wallace and Gromit. What's next? Wallace coming to grips with his loneliness, or perhaps Gromit tackling his substance abuse issues. I fear for my favorite claymates. Are there darker times ahead? Only time, and Nick Park, will tell. I don't like it, not only for the fact that the piece is quite somber, but the fact that it lacks many elements that I would consider staple. I swear that "cheese and crackers" was mentioned about once in the entire twenty nine minutes. The episode is also very Gromit-centric. In previous installments Gromit has been very much the plot driver, though it feels as if he is never off camera. My only explanation for this is that the darkness is a result of the creator trying to reach the older audience that saw his work at its birth. This is a step in the wrong direction. Does Nick Park not realize that kids watch his show til this day? I even found some subtle Yorkshire bashing, a brand of comedy aimed at adults or at least older kids.
Another gripe that ails me on this topic is the pacing. To be fair, I missed the story's opening five minutes, but when the Bake-O-Lite girl came onscreen I had no idea what I was supposed to recognize. That said, I understand it is hard to cram everything you want into such a small time frame. The final, and befittingly ultimate thing that Loaf and Death lacks is heart. Maybe hear is the wrong word... soul? I can't describe the feeling, I just felt that it was in deficit of something. One could argue that I've simply outgrown the series, though I checked, and I believe I still have innocence (it was in my desk drawer, a bit dusty, but still intact).
Despite it's scripting flaws, the claymation that Wallace and Gromit is presented in is great. Time has served the art form well, with charcters being greatly sculpted, tears and all.
Australia is the first to receive this helping of Wallace and Gromit (I knew there were advantages to being connected to the commonwealth), with it airing in the UK on Christmas day. With Britanians making up about a quarter of this blog's total lifetime readership, I wish you (yes, you) a merry Christmas, with a gift that's okay, but not all that good.
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