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Dog's Best Friend 

True Wallace & Gromit fans were a bit worried: Could their creator, Nick Park, really stretch one of their stories out from the usual 30-minute format to a feature-length production without losing something in the translation?

The happy answer is that no one need worry. Sure, there are a few instances where some of this feels a tad lengthy, but I'd bet that if you simply look all over the screen -- not just at the plasticene characters -- at any given moment, there's a whole lot going on that isn't picked up on first glance. Take, for instance, when the camera pans past cheese-lover Wallace's library; it pauses for a second on a copy of Fromage to Eternity. And yes, the film is loaded with that type of goofy but high-brow humor -- a little something for the adults while the kids groove on the comic antics.

"Part of that is that the film takes so long, you get to sort of put things in," says Park. "It's from the love of building sets, and it has been since my first Wallace & amp; Gromit film, A Grand Day Out. I used to do it all myself. Now we have a big team and everybody says, 'Well, what about putting in this or that?'"

Yet it would probably take a number of viewings even to begin to see all the little touches the animators have included. That's because the main plotline is engrossing enough on its own. Derived from a story that was to be part of a Wallace & amp; Gromit book series, this was originally called Wallace & amp; Gromit and the Veggie Burglars, and was about masked rabbits pilfering vegetables from Wallace & amp; Gromit's garden, and how the less-than-brilliant Wallace and his very sharp dog Gromit would find a humane way to get rid of them. But the book series fell through.

"Then [writer] Bob Baker and I started elaborating on the story idea while we were in a pub," says Park. "I think we were talking about what if there was an experiment -- what if there was a big rabbit? Then later -- when we were in a pub again -- we started talking about werewolf movies. And soon it was ... if it wasn't a wolf eating flesh and blood, but a giant rabbit eating vegetables? Suddenly it was well into the absurd world of Wallace & amp; Gromit. And it all started to spark from there."

What they came up with is a hybrid of science fiction, horror, slapstick comedy, the British class system and even a little romance. The main story became one of our two heroes running a pest removal service called Anti-Pesto, ridding the neighborhood of bunnies that would otherwise be ravaging local gardens in the final days before a Giant Vegetable contest is to take place.

Fans of the duo will know from previous shorts such as The Wrong Trousers that Wallace is an inventor -- unfortunately of things that tend to go wrong. And his best friend Gromit is usually around to get him out the jams he causes. One of the inventions here is the Mind Manipulator-O-Matic.

Things go wrong.

And before you can say gorgonzola, a very large rabbit is wreaking havoc in the lovely little British village. But that's just the main plot. There's also a love interest for Wallace -- the talkative and big-haired Lady Tottington (voice of Helena Bonham Carter, who also does the title character in Corpse Bride). And there's a jealous additional suitor, Victor Quartermaine (voiced with splendidly comic overacting skill by Ralph Fiennes).

It's a very sweet movie, appropriate for all ages, although some of the Britishisms in it will likely go over even some adults' heads. And while producer Jeffrey Katzenberg tried to get Park to think more of American audiences -- where, of course, all the big money is -- sometimes his meddling backfired. When Park had Gromit growing a huge squash in his garden -- yes, you must accept that dogs can be gardeners, just as you must accept that they can drive -- he used the word "marrow," the British term for squash. Katzenberg said that American audiences wouldn't get it, so he had Park change it to "melon." At least it would be a close lip sync. That's just a warning so you don't get confused. Gromit's huge "melon" is actually a squash.

Other than that slight confusion, this is a wonderful romp from first frame to last. And you should stick around for the very last frame, at the end of the credits. Park and his team have saved a wonderful sight gag for those of you who do.

Wallace & Gromit: the Curse of the Were Rabbit; Rated: G Directed by Nick Park and Steve Box.

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