(UK 1993 31m) DVD2
Pick up a penguin
p Christopher Moll d Nick Park w Nick Park, Bob Baker ed Helen Garrard m Julian Nott art Yvonne Fox
VOICES BY:- Peter Sallis (Wallace),
Wallace the inventor with a passion for Wensleydale cheese always reminded me of the Beano’s Calamity James without hair and, like that comic creation, he has an infinitely more street-smart pet (substitute Gromit the dog for Alexander the lemming). For any one of a number of reasons Wallace and Gromit became a national institution in the nineties, a source of endless pleasure for young and old and the source of instant fame for its modest creator with a taste for outrageous bow-ties, Nick Park. Much was made of the incredibly pain-staking animation methods used and they are certainly as close to being a polar opposite to the CGI world of Pixar as could be offered. But these films are more than mere animated shorts, they are classic comedies. Period. They belong with the best of Keaton, Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy. And though A Grand Day Out and, particularly, A Close Shave are rightly feted, for me The Wrong Trousers is Aardman’s greatest film.
The film begins with Gromit pending the rising from bed of his owner, Wallace, and anxiously awaiting his birthday presents. Eventually he is presented with a new dog collar (which he hates) and some leftover NASA space trousers to take him for walkies and leave Wallace to eat his cheese and invent his crackpot devices. At the same time, money is running a little thin and Wallace is forced to take in a lodger, in the form of a suspicious looking penguin, who proceeds to take over Gromit’s room and force the poor old dog out into the kennel and, eventually, complete with yellow raincoat and trademark knotted spotted hankie, to leave home. However, the penguin has sinister plans for Wallace, using his trousers to rob the local museum of a priceless diamond.
The homages to numerous films are there for all to see and some of the little sight gags are so quick you’d miss them if you blinked. I loved the newspaper headlines, such as “moon cheese shares soar”, (a reference to the previous A Grand Day Out), “sheepdog found guilty” and “dog reads paper” as Gromit does that self same thing. Then there’s the playing of ‘how much is that doggy in the window?’ by the nefarious penguin as Gromit sits outside in his kennel, trying to shut it out with ear muffs. But as is always the case with Aardman’s work, right back to the iconic Creature Comforts, it’s the expressions that provide the most pleasure, Gromit’s in particular. One thinks of his look knowing he’s about to be splatted with jam when caught in Wallace’s trousers, his incredulity at Wallace’s actions, his ear shaking terror at the Karloffesque space trousers, his emotional last glimpse of his photo of himself with his master prior to leaving home and, last but not least, his threatening the penguin with furrowed brow and a rolling pin, only to have the penguin pull a gun on him. Pure genius, yet not all the comedy lies here, Trousers being also a throwback to the old slapstick days. The penguin is a superb creation, emotionless behind his beedy eyes, devilishly using a sleepwalking Wallace as an unwitting accomplice in his criminal schemes. How could you not enjoy a character called Feathers McGraw who is sent not to prison but to the zoo?
However, piece de resistance has to be the final chase on the train set, which is not only a genuine homage to Keaton’s The General but a masterpiece of screen comedy and more entertaining than a thousand redundant car chases in the latest mindless blockbusters, with Gromit under the lampshade, being fired upon by the penguin, hastily laying the tracks in front of the electric train he’s riding as it’s moving and his final capture of the penguin in a milk bottle. It’s organised chaos into which Wallace can only interrupt with a trademark “hang in there, everything’s under control!” We never doubt that everything will, just as with another northern treasure George Formby, turn out nice again, but one always wishes it wouldn’t quite so soon. We always want more.