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‘Wallace & Grommit’ bring clay to Cannes

Nick Park’s stop-action duo star in first full-length movie
/ Source: The Associated Press

The latest stars of the Cannes Film Festival have feet literally made of clay.

The cheese-obsessed Brit and his crafty canine companion of the “Wallace & Gromit” TV films turned up in a preview of their first big-screen clay-animated adventure.

From DreamWorks and Aardman Animations, the outfits behind the hit “Chicken Run,” “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” makes its debut in U.S. theaters Oct. 7.

Though the “Wallace & Gromit” shorts debuted in the early 1990s, had won Academy Awards for short animation and had a devoted following, Aardman opted to do a comic take on “The Great Escape,” only with chickens, as its first theatrical film.

“I think we didn’t really have a ‘Wallace & Gromit’ idea that was really good enough at the time to make a full-length feature,” said Nick Park, creator of “Wallace & Gromit” and co-director of the movie version and of “Chicken Run.” “As it was our first kind of foray into feature filmmaking, we needed a fresh idea, and we had this great idea about chickens.”

Considering the three “Wallace & Gromit” movie sequences screened for reporters at Cannes, Aardman now has what seems like a sparkling idea for its “Wallace & Gromit” movie: Can-do human Wallace and his right-hand dog Gromit have started a pest-control outfit called Anti-Pesto.

They rely on their trademark gadgets to remove burrowing creatures from British lawns and gardens. One is an underground suction system that vacuums rabbits harmlessly into a giant holding tank.

But just as the neighborhood prepares for its annual giant vegetable competition, a monster rabbit begins a rampage on the townsfolks’ gardens, forcing Wallace and Gromit to take extreme measures to catch the creature.

Peter Sallis, the key mouthpiece in the TV films, returns as the voice of Wallace. The movie also features Helena Bonham Carter providing the voice of Wallace’s new love interest and Ralph Fiennes doing the voice of her pompous suitor.

‘A unique style that they've perfected’DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg said he had been interested in working with Aardman as early as his days with Disney in the early 1990s, when he was helping to revive the studio’s animation business.

“They’re really smart, they’ve got irony and satire and parody, and I love the thoughtfulness that they put into the work they’re doing,” Katzenberg said. “I think it’s a unique style that they’ve perfected now, and it’s just amazingly appealing.”

The movie comes amid a resurgence of interest in one of the oldest forms of film animation, the stop-motion method in which still objects are captured one shot at a time then moved infinitesimally frame after frame. Projected at full speed, the objects seem to have a life of their own as they move around.

Aardman, the company behind the dazzling animation for Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” music video in 1986, also has created a stop-motion TV series based on its Oscar-winning short “Creature Comforts.”

And preceding the “Wallace & Gromit” movie in theaters this fall will be “Corpse Bride,” a return to stop-motion animation by Tim Burton (“The Nightmare Before Christmas”). “Corpse Bride” features the voices of Johnny Depp and Bonham Carter.

At Cannes, Aardman and DreamWorks also showed footage from their first computer-animated collaboration, “Flushed Away,” featuring the voices of Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet in the tale of a rodent flushed down the drain from his upper-class digs and forced to adapt to life among the sewer rats. Due out in 2006, the movie is being made through a digital process that simulates the look of stop-motion, Katzenberg said.

Aardman also announced its next project, the prehistoric culture-clash comedy “Crood Awakening,” written by John Cleese. That movie also will be produced through some form of stop-motion animation.

“There seems to be a kind of renaissance that’s happening now,” Park said. “With Tim Burton’s film and ‘Creature Comforts’ and now ‘Wallace & Gromit,’ there are probably more people employed in the world now in stop-frame animation than ever before, so it seems to be rising in popularity.”