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Wallace and Gromit

Wallace and Gromit are the main characters in a series of four British animated short films, a series of ten short-animated sequences, and a feature-length film by Nick Park of Aardman Animations. All the characters were made from moulded plasticine modelling clay on metal armatures, and filmed with stop motion clay animation.

Wallace is an absent-minded inventor, cheese enthusiast (especially for Wensleydale cheese), and companion to the dog, Gromit, who appears to be rather more intelligent than his master. Wallace is voiced by veteran actor Peter Sallis; Gromit remains silent [he has no visible mouth], communicating only through facial expressions and body language.

Characters

Wallace

Voiced by Peter Sallis, Wallace can usually be found wearing a white shirt, brown wool trousers, green knitted pullover, and a red tie. He loves cheese and crackers. The thought of Lancashire hotpot keeps him going in a crisis. He enjoys a nice cup of tea or a drop of Bordeaux red for those special occasions. He reads the Morning Post, the Afternoon Post, and the Evening Post, and occasionally Ay-Up!, which is a parody on Hello! magazine.

Wallace is an inveterate inventor, creating elaborate contraptions that often do not work as intended. He is a self-proclaimed genius, evident from his exclamation when he discovers Hutch's borrowed skill, a talent for all things mechanical. Most of Wallace's inventions look not unlike the designs of Heath Robinson and Rube Goldberg, and Nick Park has said of Wallace that all his inventions are designed around the principle of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Some of Wallace's contraptions actually are based on true inventions. For example, Wallace's method of getting up in the morning incorporates a bed that tips over to wake up its owner, an invention that was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 by Theophilus Carter, and is similar to a device sold in Japan that is used to ensure the sleeper awakens on time.

He has a kindly nature, and is perhaps a little over-optimistic. Nick Park, his creator (who created it in Bristol) says: "He's a very self-contained figure. A very homely sort who doesn't mind the odd adventure." He is loosely based on Nick Park's father, who Nick described in a radio interview as "an incurable tinkerer". He described one of his father's constructions, a combination beach hut and trailer, as having curtains in the windows, bookshelves on the walls, and full-sized furniture bolted to the floor.

In the first photo shown on "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit", it was revealed that once, when Gromit was little, Wallace had much more hair and a beard. On the photo that shows Gromit's Graduation at Dogwarts, he had lost his beard, but still had a little hair, in the form of little patches just above his ears. The reason behind Wallace's loss of hair is unknown. However, as shown in The Wrong Trousers, he still feels the need to use a hair-dryer.

Wallace has had two love interests. The first was Wendolene Ramsbottom which ended quickly when Wallace realized the sad fact that she didn't like cheese. The second is Lady Tottington, whom Wallace fondly refers to as "Tottie"

Gromit

Gromit is a beagle who lives with Wallace. His birthday is 12 February,. Gromit graduated from "Dogwarts University" ('Dogwarts' being a pun on 'Hogwarts', the wizard school from the Harry Potter books) with a double first in Engineering for Dogs. He likes knitting, reading the newspaper, and cooking. His prized possessions include his alarm clock, bone, brush, and a framed photo of himself with Wallace. He is also very handy with electronic equipment. Gromit's profiency with electronics may be an allusion to the origin of his name; a grommet is a ring (usually made of metal, rubber, or plastic) which is inserted through a hole made of another material to reinforce and/or shield the material. Nick Park picked this up from his brother, an electrician. Gromit even reads Electronics for Dogs. He is very sensitive, intelligent, resourceful, and skilled at coping with Wallace's hare-brained gadgets. Gromit holds a genuine affection for his master and remains loyal to him, even at his own expense, or when Wallace's contraptions inevitably blow up in his face.

Since Gromit has no visible mouth (and possibly also because he's a dog) he cannot express himself with spoken words. However, his facial expressions and body language speak volumes. Many critics believe that Gromit's silence makes him the perfect straight man with a pantomime expressiveness that drew favourable comparisons to Buster Keaton. He does at times make dog-like noises, such as a yelp. Nick Park says: "We are a nation of dog-lovers and so many people have said: 'My dog looks at me just like Gromit does!'" Gromit enjoys eating "KornFlakes" and reading many books, including The Republic, by Pluto (a nod to the Disney character of the same name and a pun on Plato); Crime and Punishment, by Fido Dogstoyevsky (a pun on Fyodor Dostoevsky); and a "how-to" guide entitled, Electronics for Dogs. He also listens to Bach, and solves puzzles with ease.

Sometimes, Gromit refuses to take (or simply ignores) Wallace's orders such as in A Close Shave and Shopper 13 wherein Wallace orders him to get rid of Shaun, but Gromit does not.

On 1 April 2007, HMV announced that Gromit would stand in for Nipper for a three month period, promoting children's DVDs in its UK stores.

NASA has named one of its new prototype Mars explorer robots after Gromit. The other new prototype is named "K-9", after a robotic dog from Doctor Who.

Location

While not overtly setting the series in any particular town, Nick Park had previously hinted that its milieu was inspired by thoughts of 1950s Wigan, reinforced by an A-Z Wigan being displayed on Wallace's Anti-Pesto van in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Closer examination of The Wrong Trousers by a fan revealed that, while looking for birthday cards, Gromit picks up a letter addressed to the fictional 62 West Wallaby Street, Wigan. The address includes a postcode of WG7 7FU, though this does not match any street in Wigan, whose postcodes begin with the letters WN.

Wallace's accent, however, voiced by Peter Sallis, comes from the Holme Valley of West Yorkshire.

Films

Wallace and Gromit have appeared in three half-hour films, an ident campaign, a series of short webcast animations, and a full-length feature film that won the 2005 (US) Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Original shorts

The original half-hour shorts for both the PBS/BBC Children's networks, each of which had approximately 35,000 frames, were:

In addition, following the success of A Close Shave, the duo were used as BBC2's official Christmas campaign in 1995, appearing with the famous "2" in the main ident and several shorter versions for in between trailers.

"A Grand Day Out" quickly introduced viewers to the humour and in-jokes that would remain with the series, for example Wallace was seen using Duck matches to light the spaceship, a pun on the actual brand of Swan matches.

The original theme music, which was re-orchestrated for The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, was composed by Julian Nott.

In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, The Wrong Trousers was placed 18th.

The three shorts were released on a compilation DVD, entitled "3 Cracking Adventures" by the BBC in 2005.

Cracking Contraptions

Note: This section is about the series of shorts. For the PC game of the same name, see the Video games section below.

A series of ten Wallace and Gromit shorts (approx 2½ minutes each) entitled Cracking Contraptions has appeared on the Internet and subsequently on a limited-edition VHS and region 2 DVD, as well as on the region 1 collection of Wallace and Gromit shorts as a special feature. Recently, the duo have also appeared alongside other bonus material in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. They were also broadcast on BBC One across the Christmas period in 2002. They were created to help Park's new team get experience with the characters and the techniques used as a sort of warm-up before they moved on to the film. Each episode features one of Wallace's new inventions and Gromit's sceptical reaction to it.

  • "Shopper 13"
  • "The Autochef"
  • "A Christmas Cardomatic"
  • "The Tellyscope"
  • "The Snowmanotron"
  • "The Bully Proof Vest"
  • "The 525 Crackervac"
  • "The Turbo Diner"
  • "The Snoozatron"
  • "The Soccamatic"

During "The Tellyscope" episode, Wallace's black-and-white television is on the wrong channel. The programme showing is called When Penguins Turn, suggesting it is a documentary about how Feathers McGraw turned evil. The music heard is Robert Farnon's "Jumping Bean", a famous piece of light music. For a brief frame, a spoof of Test Card F featuring Wallace and Shaun the Sheep can be seen. In addition, Wallace's preferred programme, the Cheese Files, seems to be a spoof of the intro to The X-Files.

Another episode, "Shopper 13", is of note for its references to Apollo 13, the Apollo Project, and space in general, in most of Wallace's lines:

  • "Gromit, we have a problem!" ("Houston, we have a problem!")
  • "It's almost due for re-entry! I can see him!"
  • "It's just one small step!" (Neil Armstrong's famous quote, "One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.")
  • "I knew he'd make it!"
  • "The Edam is stranded!" ("The Eagle has landed.")
  • "Gromit, we'll have to launch the probe!"

Shaun the Sheep puts in a re-appearance in "Shopper 13".

Feature film

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) won BAFTA Outstanding British Film and Oscar Best Animated Feature.

Shaun the Sheep

A spin-off series based on Wallace and Gromit's friend, Shaun the Sheep, began on 5 March 2007 on CBBC. This is a children's show aimed at 5 - 7 year olds, though it has found fame with people of all ages. The 40 episodes are about 7 minutes in length, with merchandise tie-ins also available.

A Matter of Loaf and Death

In October 2007, Nick Park confirmed that a new, fourth short film entitled A Matter of Loaf and Death (formerly Trouble At' Mill) would be broadcast in late 2008 on the BBC and select PBS stations. Animation began in January 2008 and finish by July or August, the fastest animation schedule for a Wallace and Gromit short. A Matter of Loaf and Death is co-written by Bob Baker, who also co-wrote The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave. The story has Wallace and Gromit becoming bakers. In addition there is a murder mystery, and a new love interest for Wallace in the shape of bread enthusiast Piella Bakewell. Park expressed delight in returning the characters to British television, as "I don't feel like I'm making a film for a kid in some suburb of America — and being told they're not going to understand a joke, or a northern saying.

Stop-motion technique

The Wallace and Gromit films were shot using the stop motion animation technique. After detailed storyboarding, and set and plasticine model construction, the film was shot one frame at a time, moving the models of the characters slightly between to give the impression of movement in the final film. In common with other animation techniques, the stop motion animation in Wallace and Gromit may duplicate frames if there is little motion, and in action scenes sometimes multiple exposures per frame are used to produce a faux motion blur. Because a second of film constitutes 25 separate frames, even a short half-hour film like A Close Shave takes a great deal of time to animate well. General quotes on the speed of animation of a Wallace and Gromit film put the filming rate at typically around 30 frames per day - i.e. just over one second of film photographed for each day of production. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a perfect example for how long this technique takes to make quality animation; it took five years to make.

Though painstaking and time-consuming, and, with the newer computer-generated imagery, no longer popularly used for feature film special effects as it was in 1933's King Kong or Ray Harryhausen's work, stop motion remains a much-loved style of animation. This is probably very much thanks to the global success of Nick Park's Wallace and Gromit shorts and other films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas in the 1990s.

As with Park's previous films, the special effects achieved within the limitations of the stop motion technique were quite pioneering and ambitious. In A Close Shave, for example, consider the soap suds in the window cleaning scene, and the projectile globs of porridge in Wallace's house. There was even an explosion in "The Auto Chef", part of the Cracking Contraptions shorts. Some effects (particularly fire, smoke, and floating bunnies) in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit proved impossible to do in stop motion and so were rendered on computer.

It is due to the time and effort required for even a single episode, that Park has consistently turned down requests for an ongoing television series.

Video games

A Wallace and Gromit interactive CD-ROM game from circa 1995, titled "W&G: Cracking Contraptions," has been released for the PC, containing mini games based on the three original animated shorts as well as brief video clips, wallpapers, screen savers, and sounds that could be assigned as system sounds.

In September 2003, a video game entitled Wallace & Gromit in Project Zoo was released for the PS2, Xbox, GameCube and Microsoft Windows. This separate story sees the duo take on Feathers McGraw (of The Wrong Trousers) once more. Still obsessed with diamonds, he escapes from the penguin enclosure of West Wallaby Zoo, where he was "imprisoned" at the end of The Wrong Trousers, and takes over the entire zoo, kidnapping young animals and forcing their parents to work for him, helping him towards his ultimate goal - turning the zoo into a diamond mine.

Wallace and Gromit, meanwhile, have adopted one of the zoo's baby polar bears, named Archie. As they go to visit the zoo to celebrate his birthday, they find the zoo closed. A quick spot of inventing back at the house, and they prepare to embark on their latest adventure. Hiding inside a giant wooden penguin, a parody of the famous Trojan horse, they infiltrate the zoo, and set about rescuing the animals and undoing Feathers' work.

In 2005, a video game of The Curse of The Were-Rabbit was released for PlayStation 2, Xbox and Microsoft Windows, following the plot of the movie as the titular duo work as vermin-catchers, protecting customers' vegetable gardens from rabbits with the use of a handy BunGun.

Gameplay for both titles is reminiscent of any third-person platformer released since the advent of Super Mario 64, with lots of jumping around in three-dimensional levels and collecting items. In Project Zoo, players exclusively control Gromit as Wallace functions as a helper non-player character (NPC), but in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, gameplay shifts between the two, and even includes two-player cooperative play.

Both games were developed by Frontier Developments with the assistance of Aardman, with Peter Sallis reprising his role as Wallace. Project Zoo was published by Bam! Entertainment, while The Curse of the Were-Rabbit went to Konami.

In July 2008, developer Telltale Games announced a new series of episodic games based on the characters, called Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures.

Comic

British publisher Titan Magazines started producing a monthly Wallace and Gromit comic after the debut of Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The characters still run Anti-Pesto, and both Shaun and Feathers McGraw have appeared in the comic.

A comic based on the spin-off series, Shaun the Sheep, is being published, also by Titan Magazines. The first issue was released on the 29th March 2007.

The Wallace and Gromit comic strip also appears in BeanoMAX. Nick Park guest edited the 70th birthday issue of The Beano weekly, and so this issue contained numerous Wallace & Gromit references.

Popular culture

Wallace and Gromit were used to promote a Harvey Nichols store that opened in Bristol (where Aardman is based) in 2008. The pictures show them, and Lady Tottington from The Curse of the Were-rabbit wearing designer clothes and items.

See also

References

External links

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