20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Extras: Featurettes, Scrapbooks, Bonus Episode, Computer Game Demo
Beloved and always entertaining, "Wallace & Gromit" are making their high definition debut on this Blu-Ray release from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, featuring not only the universally acclaimed short films but also a brand new one, entitled "A Matter of Loaf And Death." That alone is reason enough, of course, to take a closer look at this release.
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 the viewer into an organic world that lives and breathes, telling stories from the duo's life.
The first film on the release 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 Blu-Ray Disc. 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 one of the highlights 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…
Almost 15 years – and a feature film – later it was time for a new Wallace and Gromit short film, and Nick Park and his team unveiled "A Matter Of Loaf And Death," which is available on home video for the first time on this release. By now, Wallace and Gromit are running their own bakery store and delivering their freshly baked bread door-to-door they are a little upset by news that a serial killer is knocking off one baker in town after another. All that is forgotten, however, when they run into the Piella Bakewell, the original Bake-O-Lite girl from the commercials. Despite her expanding waistline, Wallace instantly falls in love with the former beauty and seems to forget all about Gromit who is becoming increasingly suspicious over Piella's real motives. One day he discovers that she is, in fact, the serial killer and wants to do away with Wallace. But how could he possibly convince Wallace that the love os his life is a murderer?
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.
It is interesting to see how the production of the Wallace and Gromit features has evolved over time. Clearly, "A Matter Of Loaf And Death" is the most sophisticated yet and doesn't fail to impress at all. The level of detail in the production, the perfection of the animation and the amazing camera work is breathtaking. Since this latest feature was also shown using the latest state of the art high definition digital still cameras the image quality is absolutely gorgeous.
Bet even the older features hold up surprisingly well in high definition. In fact, you will notice detail that was previously invisible in the much lower standard resolution of DVD. Here now you will actually be able to see the ridges of the animators' fingerprints in the clay. But not only the definition is remarkable, the sharpness and colors of the transfers are also wonderful, creating the most colorful presentation of Wallace and Gromit ever.
The release also contains a number of bonus materials, such as behind the scenes featurettes and a bonus episode from the Wallace and Gromit spin-off "Shaun The Sheep." Scrapbooks and a closer look at the contraptions of Wallace and Gromit are also included, as well as a PC demo of the video game.
I am huge fan of Wallace and Gromit and I could not be happier that their adventures are now available in high definition also, but what's more is that "A Matter of Loaf And Death" is yet another remarkable and mysterious entry in the already stellar line up of short films. With its Hitchcockian flair it is sure to please fans, as is the wonderful presentation of the shorts on this release.