Wallace & Gromit

Wallace & Gromit (1992)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Extras: Additional Footage, Photo Gallery

I am always getting excited when little known films are coming to DVD. The prospect of short films making it to home video, let away DVD are slim to say the least, and it was with surprise and excitement that I noticed 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s plans to release "Wallace And Gromit" on DVD.

If you have never heard about these two, it is time for an introduction. From the imagination of Nick Park, a young and extremely talented British director/animator, these two characters have made their first public appearance in the 1992 short film "A Grand Day Out". Wallace is a middle-aged inventor with his faithful dog Gromit by his side. Gromit is not an ordinary dog however, and since he can’t talk, he makes up for it with his highly expressive features, and big rolling eyes. Wallace, Gromit and the world they live in, is made entirely from clay that is being hand animated frame-by-frame by Nick Park and his talented crew. With ease they throw theviewer in an organic world that lives and breathes, telling stories from the duo’s life. The DVD 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is presenting us with here, contains all three short films created surrounding these two characters. They are amazing examples how attention to detail and the love for an artform can create something very uniquely distinguishable, and entertaining.

The first film on the DVD is "A Grand Day Out", the short that introduced the world to Wallace and Gromit, and that earned Nick Park an Oscar Nomination in 1992.

It all starts out like a regular day. Wallace is relaxing from his work as an inventor while Gromit is reading the newspaper. He is a very intelligent dog, you know, and always busy feeding his nimble mind with all sorts of literature. Wallace is fancying some snack and finds out that they ran out of cheese to go with is crackers. Frantically he tries to find out where to get cheese and then it dawns on him. The Moon. "Everyone knows the moon is made of cheese," he says and the duo sets about building a rocket to fly to the moon to get some cheese. There are certainly better ways to get cheese, but hardly any more inventive and inspired ones as the one shown in this remarkable short film of 23 minutes. Within minutes the viewer has fallen in love with these two characters and their absurd attempt to fly to the moon. It is greatly rewarding however to see them actually succeed, and the story taking on a new twist once they land on the moon. After this film it was clear, there must be more. The world wanted to see more adventures of Wallace and Gromit.

It came only one year later in the form of "The Wrong Trousers", the second film on this DVD from Fox. Some time has gone by and Wallace has streamlined his wake-up procedure with a number of gadgets that do most of the work for him. From waking, to dressing, all the way to preparing his jelly toast, everything in the house seems automated. As the film starts it is Gromit’s birthday. Excitedly he runs through the house, looking for presents and going through the mail, but can’t find any gifts. When Wallace wakes up, even he seems to have forgotten about the birthday of his own dog. Gromit is sad, very sad, but Wallace just played a trick on him, treating him with an invention of his. A robotic pair of pants to walk Gromit every day. But money is tight these days and Wallace has to let one of the rooms in the house to make additional money. He puts out a sign and soon a new tenant arrives in the shape of a penguin. Quickly, the penguin starts a tyranny against Gromit, inhabiting his room, redecorating it, becoming friends with Wallace, practically depriving Gromit of all pleasures and privileges he has had. Sad, Gromit decides to run away, but on his first night out he makes an interesting discovery. The new tenant is not what he makes everyone believe, and only Gromit can unravel the truth.

Filled with an endless array of ideas, "The Wrong Trousers" is the highlight of the collection. It is a non-stop gag show, filled with fun, thrills, mystery, crime and a breath-taking chase on a model train through Wallace’s house. This film is simply incredible, and has to be seen, to be really appreciated. The technical standards set by this film are absolutely dazzling and earned it three major awards, including an Oscar for best animated short film in 1993.

The third in the collection is "A Close Shave" from 1995. As we visit Wallace and Gromit again in their house we see them in their familiar habitats. Wallace snacking on crackers and cheese, while Gromit is studying the newspaper. A series of articles has caught his attention and it seems someone is stealing sheep from their pastures at night. We learn the two have started a business as window cleaners, and one day they get a call from a wool storeowner to clean her windows. The two rush into action and while Gromit is doing most of the work, Wallace is falling in love with Wendolene, the owner of the store. What they don’t know is that Wendolene is the sheep thief and she has lost one sheep the night before. It went straight into Wallace and Gromit’s house, and while they are cleaning the windows, Wendolene’s helper dog is examining the building in their absence, where he finds one of Wallace’s genial inventions. Upon their return the house is in shambles. Furniture, decoration and plants are all eaten up by the lonesome lost sheep. Through a twist of fate, Gromit is suddenly accused for being the sheep thief and put to prison, but Wallace stands by his dog and in a daring stunt he breaks Gromit free. Together they set out to find the real thieves…

From a technical standpoint, the 30-minute "A Close Shave" is the most impressive of all parts and you can see how Park and his team have advanced the technologies they used over the course of these three short films. As a result, "A Close Shave" once again won numerous awards, including the Oscar for best animated short film in 1995. While "The Wrong Trousers" is clearly Gromit’s story, "A Close Shave" is focused on Wallace. Wallace and Gromit have become cornerstones of Claymation, the process of clay figures, animated frame-by-frame. Nothing escapes Nick Park, and the way he plays off his characters is remarkable. But also the attention to detail that is paid to the stories and the characters is quite unique, using all and everything as parables within the stories itself. What is a jail for animals? The Zoo, of course. Where do you get cheese? On the moon. When looking for a hiding place, looking through the eyes of a painting, where would a dog hide out? In a cardboard box of pet food of course. It is this charmingly whimsical approach that makes all episodes of "Wallace & Gromit" so lovable.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s DVD pays full tribute to these films. Presented in their original <$PS,fullscreen> aspect ratios, the image quality of the films on this disc is flawless. The prints used for the disc’s transfer are very clean throughout and the level of detail is very well maintained. Color reproduction is strong and faithful, without <$chroma,chroma noise> or any signs of <$pixelation,pixelation>. It is great to see these films come to life in such a sharp looking presentation that brings out elements you hadn’t even noticed before. On a sidenote, DVD’s freeze-frame capabilities also allows you to study the excellence of these films forwarding the film one frame at a time. After doing that, I assure you, you will never look at them the same again. Just look out for all the things that are operating and moving in every image, the smoothness of the animation, and the fluid camera moves, and keep in mind that each and every one of these frames has been created and composed fully by hand.

The disc also contains a few extras, such as some short Wallace and Gromit interstitial snippets that were done for BBC television for use of their Christmas programming. Unfortunately there is no documentary on the disc, which I had truly hoped for. It would have been spectacular to see how Nick Park and his team went about to create these films. Very little is known about the art of Claymation as opposed to other animation techniques and I am sure many people would have loved to take a look behind the scenes to learn more about the laborious process that creates the illusion of living beings made of clay.

I loved Wallace and Gromit ever since I got introduced to them with "The Wrong Trousers" in 1993 and I am ecstatic that Fox actually decided to release all three shorts on this DVD. I am sure it will introduce these whimsical and lovable characters to a growing audience. The presentation on this DVD is fabulous and there’s only one thing I can say. Get this disc, cut out some time, and enjoy these exciting adventures as soon as you can. You will love them!