It's an eerily quiet night in the village, and only the local bobby on the beat, PC Mackintosh (voiced by Peter Kay), can be heard patrolling the streets. But wait - in a nearby garden, there is activity, and a garden gnome slowly turns its head towards it, then lights up his eyes. It's a signal, and across town the Anti-Pesto team, Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his loyal dog Gromit, are roused from their slumber to spring into action through a complex series of contraptions that end up with them both speeding towards the scene of the crime: a rabbit wants to eat a vegetable.
This was not the first time we had seen cheese aficionados Wallace and Gromit, but it was the first time we'd seen so much of them, as their previous outings had been in the short film form and won their creator Nick Park a collection of Oscars for all his hard work. Being a co-production with the American studio Dreamworks had fans concerned that the essential British quality would be lost in some horrendous transatlantic melange, but once they'd seen it they had to agree that with its mugs of tea, Northern accents and space hoppers it was as English as it had always been - there was simply a lot more cash to spend on the whole thing.
There were nevertheless grumblings that what was ideal as a twenty minute item of lovely comedy was overstretched in the form of an eighty-five minute adventure, but don't listen to them, as there was more innovation contained here than many a purely CGI effort made for the equivalent amount of money and with loaded down with many more celebrity voices. The two the producers did push the boat out to get - Helena Bonham Carter as the Lady of the Manor and Ralph Fiennes as her suitor and Wallace's main rival - slipped easily into the appropriate style, with Fiennes especially relishing the chance to let his hair (or his vocal chords) down, but as usual it was Sallis' inimitable tones that made this sound as engaging as it did.
Gromit, of course, remained silent, but his animated brow spoke volumes, owing much to the classic comedians of the silent screen, but then, there was so much you could read into these films that they rewarded repeated viewings, not only to catch jokes you'd missed, but to pick up on many of the subtleties not apparent last time around. Here, for example, just as A Grand Day Out had been the duo's sci-fi adventure and The Wrong Trousers had been their Hitchcock thriller, it was a specific genre they were tackling, and that was the traditional British horror as specialised in by Hammer. Therefore, when Wallace goes too far in his humane pest control, it is the vegetable-guzzling Were-Rabbit they have to contend with.
And all that with the local giant veg show in mere days, so how can they protect the goods when the problem has gotten way out of control? Wallace has trouble facing up to his responsibilities when it appears his experiment to wean rabbits off the kind of food that humans like as well has created a monster, but he doesn't know quite how close to home that actually is. Gromit, fortunately, is the resourceful one, and batting aside references to the likes of An American Werewolf in London, King Kong (the classic stop motion creature) and naturally Watership Down, he is the dog to step up the mark and save the day, as well as his master. If it looked as if there were attempts to tug the heartstrings, Park and his team were not going to fall back on schmaltz such was their irreverence, and the joy they took in that. For a film which took five meticulous years to make, the spontaneity in the results would shame many a lesser work with the same ambitions, it was silly, ingenious, even affectionate, fun all the way. Music by Julian Nott.