UK TV review: Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave
James R | On 08, Feb 2019
Director: Nick Park
Cast: Peter Sallis, Anne Reid
“Oh, no! Not cheese. Can’t stand the stuff.” “Not even Wensleydale?” That’s the sound of Wallace (Peter Sallis) having his heart prematurely broken in A Close Shave, his third screen outing with his dog, Gromit. Because what else do you do with your characters after two adventures other than introduce romance? And a robot dog? And a shape-shifting airplane?
To say that A Close Shave is stuffed to its seams is an understatement, but what makes Nick Park’s third short featuring his everyman-and-his-dog duo so delightful is just how varied that stuffing is. There’s heartfelt swooning, ingenious gadgeting and even time to squeeze in a prison break.
The story picks up as our friends on West Wallaby Street find themselves crossing paths with Wendolene Ramsbotton (Anne Reid), the purveyor of a local wool shop – just the thing for Wallace’s latest invention, the Knit-O-Matic, which shears and winds up sheep’s coats with precision, efficiency and sharp mechanical bits. What could possibly go wrong?
A lot, of course, as Wendolene turns out to be more dangerous than meets the eye – because her dog, Preston, is actually an evil-minded bully who has other plans for their livestock. Oh, and he’s also a robot.
The introduction of such an absurd threat is par for the course for a series that precisely gave us a sinister penguin and a malfunctioning piece of programmable clothing. But what’s great is just how threatening Preston is: like Gromit, he’s wordless, and his face conveys just as much emotion as Gromit’s impossibly expressive eyebrows. And that emotion is mostly anger. Reid, meanwhile, couldn’t be more different. After her endearing role in Dinnerladies, it’s no surprise that her well-meaning entrepreneur is immediately charming – and immediately charms Wallace, sending him into a hilarious pattern of wooing behaviour that’s as clumsy as you’d expect.
Switching between those two tones is something most feature films would struggle to pull off, but Aardman’s agile animation manages it with aplomb, helped by Julian Nott’s subtly shifting, bombastically cinematic score. It’s his music that captures the sadness of Gromit getting framed and locked up in Preston’s place, that whips up the excitement of the most acrobatic jail break you’ve ever seen, that lifts up our canine hero, as his motorbike sidecar sprouts wings and flies off over the countryside.
If The Wrong Trousers owed something to Hitchcock’s The Lodger, this ambitious thriller is more North by Northwest, by way of The Great Escape, nodding to Batman, Terminator and more with a breathless execution that rivals Pixar’s The Incredibles for pure genre thrills, claymation or no. All that and still the time to deliver cinema’s most literal aerial dogfight, and you have a short film that’s bursting with boundless, infectious imagination. The 30-minutes treasure chest is so packed that Aardman had to invent a whole TV series and feature film just to do justice to the scene-stealing addition of Shaun the Sheep.