(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)
The story of the most beloved characters in the history of British animation begins with the invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982 by the Military Junta of Argentina. Corporal Nick “Rottweiler” Park of Her Majesty’s Northumberland Fusiliers returned home from the war as a hero with over nine hundred certified enemy kills and was lauded in the press and both houses of parliament as the man who had almost single-handedly won the conflict for Great Britain. However, Park found it almost impossible to adjust to civilian life and, after an argument with a local grocer over the price of a packet of Cheese and Onion crisps, ended up taking the entire rural village of Dutchington-on-Fenth hostage. Incarcerated in Dartmoor prison, Park’s life was changed forever when a relative gave him the gift of a camera and some plasticine. Park later said that he was able to channel his uncontrollable urges to kill into plasticine figures, which he would use to stage horrendously violent scenes with the camera, teaching himself the basics of stop-motion animation in the process. “Once I got all that out of my system” Park would later say “I started experimenting with films where the characters didn’t kill everyone who ever crossed me, and Wallace and Gromit kind of came from that stepping outside of my comfort zone.” Upon being released from prison…
Oh, hello Nick Park. To what do I owe the pleasure?
Yes? What of it?
Ah. See, I don’t know how to tell you this Nick but…you’re too nice. The animators I cover on this blog tend to be half mad geniuses tormented by demons the likes of which normal men can scarcely conceive of. I mean, have you even met Walt Disney?
Oh. Oh, you sweet summer child. But anyway, you’ll understand if I had to jazz up your life story a little for the intro. Sorry. Anyway, Wallace and Gromit.
It feels almost gauche to refer to Wallace and Gromit as a “franchise”. And yet, these characters are a pretty massive enterprise. Four short films, one feature, numerous spin-offs, comics, computer games, all manner of merchandise and huge global brand recognition. And yet, Wallace and Gromit have never felt “big”. The series has always had a kind of cosy, intimate charm that is thoroughly English while somehow appealing to a worldwide audience. The premise of the series is simplicity itself: Wallace (Peter Sallis) is a cheese-loving inventor with more technical skill than common sense. Gromit, his dog, is his loyal, long-suffering straight man. The first movie, A Grand Day Out, was begun by Park in 1982 when he was still in film school and finally finished eight years later with help from Aardman Animation who had hired Park to work for them. Today’s movie, The Wrong Trousers, is the second Wallace and Gromit short and is pretty unanimously considered to be the best of the series.
Why is it so good? Let’s take a look.
While Gromit is out for mandatory cybernetic walkies, Wallace tallies up the household’s budget and discovers that they’re almost broke what with all that they’re spending on groceries, utilities and that time they went to the moon. To bring in some money, Wallace decides to rent out the guest room. Before long, someone has come to look at the room.
The scene where the Penguin (aka Feathers McGraw) arrives at 62 West Wallaby Street demonstrates why The Wrong Trousers is not simply a great cartoon like A Grand Day Out but is actually a great film. The camera, which has largely been static until now, slowly zooms in on Gromit’s face as he listens to Wallace talking to the Penguin in the hallway, creating a sense of mounting unease. Suddenly, Julian Nott’s score, which has been all friendly colliery band music up until now, shifts into a dark, noir-influenced theme. And then the moment where Gromit first sees the Penguin, who suddenly gazes back at him which causes Gromit to physically flinch. That last one was actually a happy accident, the animators originally intended the Penguin to slowly turn to look at Gromit but the model was too simple to do it effectively so instead they had him suddenly snap his head around. It all works to make it very clear that there is something very wrong with this penguin. Like Gromit, the Penguin is a silent character. But whereas Gromit’s face is so expressive that he’s an open book to us, the Penguin is utterly, totally inscrutable. And that’s really what makes him so scary.
Wallace shows the Penguin the guest room but the Penguin instead makes himself at home in Gromit’s room. Wallace is too embarrassed to make a fuss so Gromit has to move into the spare room. As they fix the room up, Gromit makes use of some of the special features of the Techno Trousers to make the job easier, using the trousers’ suction-cup feet to walk on the ceiling. This catches the beady, inscrutable eye of the Penguin, which makes Gromit more than a little uneasy.
The Penguin now slowly begins to replace Gromit in Wallace’s affections. Will actually, not really “slowly”. More like “instantaneously” and this is going to be my one and only criticism of this movie and it’s really a minor one. Gromit decides to leave home almost immediately after the Penguin arrives and it feels kind of rushed. Inevitable really given that the movie is only thirty minutes long but I can’t help feeling like a minute or so could have been cut from the jewel heist to give more time to the Penguin driving a wedge between Wallace and Gromit. As it is, it feels less like Gromit is convinced his master no longer loves him, and more like he just took the first excuse to get out of there as quickly as possible.
Which….would actually make perfect sense. Never mind. Anyway, Gromit packs a bindle and leaves in the dead of night, stopping only to gaze back at the house one last time before heading into the stormy night. This is quite possibly the first time a rain effect was ever achieved in a stop motion film (apparently they got the effect by putting tiny blobs of glycerin on a pane of glass and then blowing them frame after frame) and it looks perfect. And from the window, the Penguin watches menacingly and then gets to work on the Techno Trousers.
The next morning, Wallace wakes to find that he’s been dumped out of bed and is now wearing Title of Movie. What’s worse, the controls have been removed and the Trousers start stamping around town seemingly with a mind of their own. We now see that the Techno Trousers are incredibly powerful, capable of running at vast speeds and leaping hundreds of feet into the air and basically turning Wallace into topless Iron Man. Meanwhile, Gromit is searching for accommodation but can’t find anywhere willing to rent to a stray dog with no references. And cue the music.
He does, however, see a wanted poster for a chicken that seems oddly…familiar somehow.
Why won’t you talk to me? I’ve been paying you so much attention.
Look. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know how you keep hacking my blog. I don’t know what you think I’ve done to you. And, and this is the most important part, I don’t care. Stop this now. I am not kidding.
But I owe you so much.
You’ll owe me a minimum distance at all times if you keep this up. Leave me alone.
I will. You will be alone.
Very, very few things make me happier than this music. God I love Wallace and Gromit
I was aware of Wallace and Gromit for a long time, but I never actually had a chance to see any of the shorts. I have seen Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which was fine, but really only because it was part of the Dreamworks line-up. Then I proceeded to forget about the series until this review.
Great review, Mouse! It was a bit short, but I understand, since this is only half an hour long.
This is my absolute favorite of the Wallace and Gromit shorts. They’re all good, but my personal ranking of them goes as follows:
1. The Wrong Trousers
2. A Close Shave
3. A Grand Day Out
4. A Matter of Loaf and Death
My favorite part of the short is when Gromit is spying on the penguin, aka Feathers McGraw. The music, the atmosphere, the shots, the tension, everything about that whole part is just amazing. Though you would think Feathers McGraw would be a bit more suspicious about Gromit’s eyes (or any eyes, for that matter) blinking at him from a box and not just be weirded out and walk away. Really? He couldn’t just take a minute out of his busy schedule to investigate and make sure it wasn’t someone spying on him? I think this is just a nitpick.
Also, I don’t know if you think this is nitpicking or a legitimate question, but have you considered, when Gromit is in the bed peeking from the covers, how Feathers didn’t notice him, considering he was just a couple of feet away and Gromit’s face was kinda visible, and that if he just turned his head he would probably spot him? Or when Feathers slams the door and unintentionally activated the whole breakfast mechanism? The entrance/exit, I believe, goes past the kitchen, so you’d think Gromit would have been spotted on Feathers’ (and Wallace’s) way out, unless they took a different direction? And even if it didn’t, the whole mechanism made a lot of noise, so you’d think that would have have attracted Feathers’ attention. What say you? I also think these are nitpicks, but I thought I’d just throw that out there. I’m not trying to find something to complain about, but it’s just something I noticed more in my recent years. I still really enjoy these shorts and would recommend them to anyone.
Look forward to your next review!
I’ve always been kind of iffy on stop-motion to begin with (I think there’s an inherently unsettling element to it that requires the story to be at least part-horror – i.e. Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline), and Claymation… ehhh. I was kind of turned off by it in my childhood, since “Chicken Run” kind of freaked me out, and during my teenage years I came to associate the form with toilet humor (probably due to Flushed Away).
Still, I’ve never seen W&G before, so I’ll give it a shot.
Actually, Flushed Away is a CG movie. It was planned to be stop motion, but water would ruin the models, so they had to switch to CG.
“I think there’s an inherently unsettling element to it that requires the story to be at least part-horror”
YES. Just looking at the stills for this movie was giving me the heebie-jeebies. I feel like that penguin is coming for me in my sleep.
I get what you mean, when stop motion is very jerky (like a lot less smooth than this) I find it quite creepy.
Awesome review, Mouse! I LOVE Wallace and Gromit and this short is the best one! That penguin is great at being menacing and the scene where Gromit goes away always makes me cry (yeah, one day you are a tough guy, the other day you are a little girl crying because of anything). I actually watched W&G’s film at the cinema twice. 😀
Somehow I prefer the third shot. I don’t know, the weird dissonance in their relationship which puts me off a little bit, especially the whole birthday thing. I mean, I can get Wallace inventing something like thre trousers, but that’s not really a present for Gromit, is it, it is something which mostly benefits Wallace. Just imagine, it is your birthday, and not only are you stuck with all the work, you also get only shitty and even terrifying presents. I would have left the house immediatly!
And then it turns around and Wallace is in grave danger, but Gromit doesn’t really show that much worry.
I know that on an intellectual level, the second shot is the better one. But the third one is just much funnier. It’s so enjoyable to watch, and the characters come off as more likable.
Just watched the fourth one recently which I’d completely forgotten everything about. The ending is actually super dark.
I have never seen the fourth one…I have seen the first three in theatres ones, in one big compliation. I admit, I didn’t even know a fourth one existed.
It’s called A Matter of Loaf and Death.
It really is! I didn’t like that one, mostly because I thought Wallace was too buffoonish (especially when he’s got the bomb in his trousers). I think Wallace’s character got more useless as time went on, but he did get to rescue Gromit from prison that was quite a useful action.
I love Wallace and Gromit, always have , always will. This short is the best of the bunch, but the others are also really great. Im also a big fan of Aardman animation in general. Chicken Run came out when I was a kid and I just loved it, still one of my favorites. I even like their non-stopmotion film, Flushed Away, which is really under-rated.
What’s up with the blucatt thing? Is it part of the storyline? I think it is… but don’t tell me!
Mary and Max is next, huh? Be honest, how hard did you cry?
Also, the blucatt message is “I hate mice stop”
Haven’t watched it yet so the answer is “no more than usual”.
I hate mices to pieces. Creepy. Also, people, VOTE FOR SECRET OF NIMH FOR ME!
Was this 22 years ago now? Blimey. “Good grief, it’s you!” and “it’s no use prevaricating about the bush” became common sayings in my family after this was first shown. It’s basically perfect. 91%? You monster!
Mine too! Anything over 95% would have to literally cure cancer.
So Lion King, Hunchback, Aladdin, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (I believe the highest review you’ve given was the latter) all cured cancer? Cool.
I think Roger Rabbit tied with Princess Mononoke for top spot.
Loved your review, Mr. Mouse. Also, being a Secret of Kells fan and all, what did you think of Song of the Sea?
I’m actually terrible at keeping up with current animated films so I’m afraid I haven’t seen it yet.
It will be released in Ireland and the UK on 10 July. Schedule the rest of your summer around it.
Cool to see you tackling a Nick Park work. I’m quite a fan myself. Did anyone request any of his movies in CMD? I hope those get a chance to go up for bat sometimes, I quite enjoyed them. Also, have you seen Creature Comforts? Really fun set of shorts. If an Irish version ever happens, it would be funny if you ended up being interviewed and ended up being animated as a clay mouse on a keyboard. Though if they somehow failed to do this, that might end up being even funnier.
Wow, that story surprised me. Didn’t expect the maker of the sweet old, homey Brit movies to have done that much killing. Though I guess seeing as his first feature-length picture was a military-themed movie, I guess that at least kind of makes sense….. …………….Ok, you got me there, Mouse. Wow. I cannot believe I fell for that one. I like to think I’m not usually this much of a sucker, but damn. Well played, Mouse, well played.
Oh man, that Emperor’s New Groove quote was just too perfect, that’s just hysterical. Also, likely the only reason Gromit doesn’t call the police is because he can’t make phonecalls. That and if Wallace is the last human on earth, I’m curious what that makes Wendoline. Assuming this is only regarding the original trilogy. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Wallace was clever enough to make a female clone himself, then absent-minded enough to somehow completely forget about it until he discovered the clone.