Studio: Lionsgate/HIT Entertainment
Theatrical Release Year: 1989, 1993, 1995, 2008
US DVD Release Date: September 22, 2009
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 242 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Various (dependent on feature)
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM 5.1, PCM 2.0)
Subtitles: English (SDH)
Movie: 4 out of 5
Nominated for four Academy Awards, and winning three, Wallace and Gromit have become the Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse of Aardman Animation Studios, and their popularity led to what would later become an ill-fated partnership (but more of a distribution deal) with Dreamworks Animation. Wallace and Gromit would also set a signature animation style for Aardman, as seen in Creature Comforts, the Chevron Car commercials, and their first feature-length film, Chicken Run.
The first three adventures have appeared on DVD in no less than four releases (Fox, Dreamworks, BBC/Warner, and now Lionsgate/HIT). This release marks their high definition debut.
My first encounter with Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit was in 1989 when the annual Spike & Mke Festival of Animation would roll into town at the (now demolished) Mesa Theatre in Costa Mesa, California. There were only two shorts I can remember to this day shown at that year’s festival, they were both directed by Aardman’s Nick Park, and both were nominated for Best Animated Short Subject, Wallace & Gromit in A Grand Day Out and Creature Comforts (which went on to win that year).
A Grand Day Out (1989) follows inventor Wallace (voiced by character actor Peter Sallis) and his trusty (and much smarter) dog and sidekick Gromit as they build a spaceship to spend their bank holiday on the moon in search of cheese. There, they encounter a strange coin-operated machine that operates as a security guard that becomes distraught with Wallace’s littering and vandalism of the moon.
Originally produced as a student project (with Aardman providing additional financing and workspace to complete the film), the plasticine animation is crude at times, and the characters would become more refined in later adventures. The major discovery, though, is Park’s ability to animate Gromit with a full range of emotions with no voice and no visible mouth.
The Wrong Trousers (1993) finds Wallace a bit low on cash after purchasing a collar and Techno-Trousers (a pair of hydraulic, human-size legs, “perfect for walkies”) for Gromit’s birthday. To bring in some extra cash, Wallace rents out the spare bedroom to a penguin, who creates a wedge between the inventor and his dog, forcing Gromit to run away from home (in an eye-catching rainstorm). But this is all part of the penguin’s plan to use the TechnoTrousers to steal a priceless jewel from the local museum. The film obviously benefits from a higher budget, with noticeably higher production values, more refined animation and character design, a tighter pace, and some clever sight gags, culminating in a hilarious chase sequence involving a toy train. One thing worth noting, however, is that some music cues have been replaced when comparing this to earlier home video releases. The song Happy Birthday has been replaced with He’s A Jolly Good Fellow, and the music the penguin has blaring from his radio is different. The short marks Wallace and Gromit’s first Oscar win.
A Close Shave (1995) has Wallace and Gromit running a window cleaning service (with Gromit doing most of the work, of course) during a nationwide wool shortage. When cleaning windows at the local yarn shop, Wallace falls for the shopkeeper, Wendoline (voiced by Anne Reid), daughter of an inventor. Gromit is framed for sheep rustling, Shaun the Sheep (who would later get his own animated series) and Wallace break him out of prison, and the three uncover who’s behind the sheep rustling and why. The exciting (and hilarious) climax includes references to Busby Berkley musicals, The Terminator, and even Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This short also went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Short Subject.
A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008) is the latest adventure, following their feature-length feature Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Wallace and Gromit now have their own bakery, Top Bun. In town, there has been a rash of baker murders, which the short cleverly refers to as a cereal killer. Wallace’s love infatuation this time out is Piella Bakewell (voiced by Sally Lindsay), a former spokesmodel for Bake-O-Lite bread. But Gromit senses something is not quite right with this romance. Movie references are in abundance, including Ghost, Spider-Man 2, Fatal Attraction, Aliens, Psycho, Vertigo, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and even Batman (1966).
A Grand Day Out: 2 out of 5
The Wrong Trousers: 5 out of 5
A Close Shave: 4 out of 5
A Matter of Loaf and Death: 3.5 out of 5
Video: 4 out of 5
Wallace and Gromit make their high definition debut in 1080p, encoded with the AVC codec. Fans will likely be delighted at the ability to see the animators’ fingerprints embedded in the clay and some of the previously hidden details that are now much more visible.
Both A Grand Day Out and The Wrong Trousers are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
A Grand Day Out looks the worst of the lot, but that is attributed more to the low budget and film school aspects of the production. There are some visible scratches and dirt, and the picture has some occasional flutter, but again, that is likely inherent in the original negative. Film grain is noticeable, but not overly distracting. This is likely as good as this short will ever look.
The Wrong Trousers is a noticeable improvement, with solid details well-saturated colors, and inky blacks. Film grain is less noticeable, likely due to a finer grain film stock.
A Close Shave is framed in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, opening up the frame a bit on the left and right sides when compared to the previous DVD releases that were framed at 1.33:1. Colors are vibrant and well-saturated, inky blacks, with fine detail and noticeable but unobtrusive film grain. Compression artifacts are virtually non-existent.
A Matter of Loaf and Death, being the most recent, looks the best of the lot. Framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1, colors are vibrant and well-saturated, inky blacks, with fine detail. Compression artifacts are virtually non-existent.
A Grand Day Out: 3 out of 5
The Wrong Trousers: 4 out of 5
A Close Shave: 4 out of 5
A Matter of Loaf and Death: 4 out of 5
Audio: 3.5 out of 5
All four shorts have Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 640 kbps), PCM 5.1, and PCM 2.0 soundtracks.
On A Grand Day Out, my preference was for the PCM 2.0 soundtrack. Both the Dolby Digital and PCM 5.1 tracks were too bass-heavy with much of the audio coming from the front center speaker. The PCM 2.0 was more balanced and expansive, but still suffers from the audio recording technologies used during production of the short. Fidelity is weak, but dialogue remains intelligible.
The PCM 5.1 soundtrack was my preference for the remainder of the shorts, although the dialogue does sometimes get lost when the mix is very active.
A Grand Day Out: 2 out of 5
The Wrong Trousers: 3 out of 5
A Close Shave: 3 out of 5
A Matter of Loaf and Death: 3 out of 5
Special Features: 4 out of 5
Many of the special features from previous DVD releases have been ported over. Noticeably missing, from the original FOX release are the BBC Christmas interstitials and excerpts from some of Nick Park’s early animated shorts. All of the commentary tracks are accessible from the Setup menu, and all of the featurettes are in standard definition.
Audio Commentary With Nick Park on A Grand Day Out: Nick Park discusses the origins of Wallace and Gromit with Aardman co-founder Peter Lord (?). Topics discussed include how the film took over six years to make, the first ten minutes were produced at the National Film and Television School as a final graduation project, and how Wallace was inspired by Park’s father, who also was an inventor.
Audio Commentary with Nick Park, Bob Baker, and Steve Box on The Wrong Trousers: The three discuss making the film, and mention that Wrong Trousers was a constant inspiration for the creation of the feature film, Curse of the Were-Rabbit. They also discuss the use of video monitoring to check their animation, lifetime inspirations in actions and dialogue used in the film, and some of the crude devices used to achieve the animation.
Audio Commentary with Nick Park and Steve Box on A Close Shave: The two discuss the differences between Close Shave and Wrong Trousers, the pressure to try and top the prior film and remain fresh, introducing a love interest in the series for Wallace, and the many films that inspired them and referenced in the movie.
Audio Commentary with Nick Park and David McCormick on A Matter of Loaf and Death: The two discuss the effects and animation techniques used in the film, compressing the storyline into 30 minutes after making feature-length, giving the film a cinematic feel, some of the continuity errors that can be found, and the many references to other Hollywood films.
How They Donut: The Making of A Matter of Loaf and Death: A 20 minute behind the scenes look at the making of the most recent Wallace and Gromit adventure. One of the challenges in making the film was working within a television budget but trying to keep the production values of a feature film. This is also the first Wallace and Gromit short that utilized digital cinematography with a customized digital still camera (the same technology used on Corpse Bride).
A Close Shave: How It Was Done: A five minute behind the scenes look at the digital effects used in the prison break sequence and the motorcycle chase by showing the different stages from original photography, the effects plates, and final composite.
Inside The Wrong Trousers: A 24 minute behind the scenes look at the making of the film. This is the complete version, and not the excerpt included on the first FOX DVD release.
The Amazing Adventures of Wallace & Gromit: The history (up to a Close Shave) of the two famous characters is explored in this 15 minute featurette, including clips from some of Nick Park’s other works.
Scrapbook: A gallery of production stills and invention blueprints from the various Wallace and Gromit shorts. The sound effects for each screen change were a bit unnecessary.
Cracking Contraptions: Originally produced as training exercises for the various animators at Aardman who would be working on the feature film, these ten shorts, running about two minutes each, feature some of Wallace’s inventions.
Shaun The Sheep in Off The Baa!:The adorable sheep from A Close Shave is featured in this seven minute cartoon from the television series. When a head of cabbage falls off the farmer’s truck, Shaun and his fellow sheep play a game of soccer with the leafy ball.
Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures Video Game Demo: A PC game demo, but it requires a BD-Rom drive in order to install on your PC, and is not supported on 64-bit Windows operating systems.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
Calling this disc a “Complete Collection” is a bit deceiving, as complete implies it would also include the Dreamworks feature Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Also, since BD-Rom drives are still fairly new, the game demo should have either been included on a separate DVD-Rom disc, or included a Playstation 3 version of the demo. Otherwise, this Blu-ray is highly recommended. Cracking Blu-ray, Lionsgate!