'Rabbit' fever 

Wallace and Gromit's newest is clever; 'Cronicas' well-acted.

'CRONICAS': Stars Watling and Leguizano.
  • 'CRONICAS': Stars Watling and Leguizano.

While many cartoons I loved as a kid have lost their Technicolor sheen (though others, like Looney Tunes, and anything by director Tex Avery, just keep getting funnier), one kiddie series that always brings a smile to my face is the “Wallace and Gromit” shorts of British director Nick Park. Lovingly crafted in a puffy, grade-school-style Claymation, the shorts are thoroughly English, and full of dazzlingly, witty in-jokes.

In a nutshell, the “W and G” films follow the adventures of cheese-loving inventor Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis) and his mute but levelheaded dog Gromit. Beginning with their first adventure, 1989’s “A Grand Day Out,” we were introduced to a kid’s fantasy world, full of Rube Goldberg contraptions for preparing breakfast, spring-loaded beds to get you up on time, and robotic hands to get you dressed.

Even though I’m well out of the “W and G” demographic now, the word that Wallace and Gromit would be getting their first feature-length movie — “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” — excited me. Not only would I get my fix, it would be the first-time big-screen “Wallace and Gromit” experience for my son, born in the years since their last feature, 1995’s “A Close Shave.”

The good news is, all the excitement and anticipation pays off, with more of the quirky zingers and Oz-colored animation we’ve come to expect from Park, and a smart and funny plot that more than fills the extra film stock. Both my kid and I had a great time.

The plot is characteristically wacky: With the upcoming annual Giant Vegetable contest, Wallace and Gromit are making a name for themselves as “Anti-Pesto” — a company specializing in rabbit capture and removal. Using Wallace’s wacky inventions, it looks like they just might stave off the carrot-chomping menace for another year.

They have a problem, however: Unwilling to kill the rabbits, Wallace’s house is filling up with wayward bunnies. To try to solve the problem, Wallace decides to use a computerized brain-washer he has developed to get the bunnies to swear off veggie thievery for good. A malfunction in the process, however, creates something horrible: a vegetable-devouring Were-Rabbit, which decimates the pampered plants of contest hopefuls whenever the moon is full. With the help of blue-blooded vegetable nut Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) and racing against the machinations of dastardly shoot-first-ask-questions-later rogue Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), Wallace and Gromit must find the secret behind the Were-Rabbit, return him to normal, and save the contest — all before teatime.

Slapstick-funny enough for most children, clever enough for most adults, “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” is a worthy addition to Park’s laboriously crafted acclamation output. Full of heart, laughs and more than a few thrills, it’s a great movie for the Halloween season — or any season, for that matter.

— By David Koon

While many cartoons I loved as a kid have lost their Technicolor sheen (though others, like Looney Tunes, and anything by director Tex Avery, just keep getting funnier), one kiddie series that always brings a smile to my face is the “Wallace and Gromit” shorts of British director Nick Park. Lovingly crafted in a puffy, grade-school-style Claymation, the shorts are thoroughly English, and full of dazzlingly, witty in-jokes. A couple of things immediately stood out upon viewing “Cronicas,” now playing at the Market Street Cinema: One, you can’t help but think of the three little boys found dead in West Memphis a decade ago when, on screen, a Spanish-language “Inside Edition” style film crew shows up in a tiny Ecuadorian town mourning three murdered boys; and Ecuador, as filmed by native son Sebastien Cordero, is about as Third World as one could imagine.

Cordero takes the viewer on a scary, mysterious and unsettling ride along with a Miami-based TV crew led by personable reporter Manolo Bonilla (played exceedingly well by John Leguizamo) and producer Marisa Iturralde (played gorgeously by Leonor Watling). They happen onto the village in Ecuador just as Vinicio Cepeda (Damian Alcazar) is allowing his son and friends to hop aboard his run-down truck in the middle of a funeral procession for the murdered boys, and moments before he runs down a boy who is the twin brother of one of the murdered children. We’re told that these three kids are among 150 that have been tortured and killed by “the Monster of Babahoyo.”

Seconds after the accident, a mob descends on Vinicio, yanking him from the truck. He’s doused by gasoline, though an attempt to roast him fails. Before TV reporter Bonilla heroically stops the assault along with tentative police, he makes sure his camera operator has gotten the right shot of the assault. This, after all, will make a great story for Spanish TV. Vincinio is locked away is a rotting prison along with the mob, which includes the dead twins’ father.

Later, as this crew is about to move on to Colombia for a drug cartel story, Vinicio manages to seduce Bonilla into staying and doing a story on his plight by suggesting he has insight into the serial killer, having met him while he went from town to town selling Bibles. Where Bonilla initially viewed Vinicio as an innocent victim of an accident beyond his control, he now wonders if this knowledge might be available because Vinicio is in fact “the Monster.” His suspicions only grow with each question, while in Miami, the show’s anchorman (Alfred Molina), who is married to Marisa, begins to take an interest in the victim story’s instead.

We slowly get answers that indicate Vinicio hasn’t been honest with anyone about who he is. But still, is he crazy enough to be a murderer of all these children? Meanwhile, Bonilla is beginning to harbor his own guilt.

This film will have you thinking long after leaving the theater. It’s mostly subtitled with some English interspersed in the dialog. The story, though not deep in twist and turns, is gripping, and Leguizamo, Watling and the genuinely scary Alcazar make the film a nice character study, not just of Vinicio but of the “heroes” in our TV crew.

— By Jim Harris



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