Who would have guessed that the two most appealing animated features in digitally drenched 2005 would employ a method developed more than 100 years ago? Stop-motion animation certainly has evolved since then - and in each case here, various digital techniques were used to create the finished film. But it's still amazing that both of these Oscar nominees derive their considerable charms from the painstaking still-photography of hand-manipulated figures.
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride suffers a little from the inevitable comparison with the previous animated adventure he oversaw, The Nightmare Before Christmas, given its similarly ghoulish look and feel. But even if Corpse Bride can't match Nightmare for overall sheer inventiveness, it hangs together better in its story of the living and the dead, and its visuals are sleek and sophisticated. In addition, the principal characters - voiced by Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant, and Christopher Lee - are little masterpieces of gorgeous, expressive detail.
The expressiveness in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is what sets the film apart from nearly all the competition. How does Gromit, the wise and heroic dog with neither a mouth nor a voice, come across with personality to burn? How does Wallace, the kindly inventor (and humane rabbit-catcher), manage to be so casually captivating? We can only watch in wonder. The pair have become much beloved over the series of short films built around them, so their appearance in a feature-length movie is cause for celebration for many - despite its exceedingly silly, "world's first vegetarian horror movie" storyline. Still, the gags are hilarious, and the rough-hewn, almost traditional look is inviting.
Images on both DVDs have enough depth and detail to reveal the films' intricacies. The muted hues of Corpse Bride's land of the living set you up nicely for the shock of the garish colors below, although there's a little too much grain in the darkest scenes. Were-Rabbit's simpler images and flat primary colors are warm and cozy. Corpse Bride's soundtrack is filled with Danny Elfman's nimble score, and there's just enough in the surround channels to add atmosphere without overwhelming the visuals. Were-Rabbit's mix generates an appropriately wide and whimsical soundscape.
The Corpse Bride DVD is surprisingly light on extras: 40 minutes of featurettes (giving only a taste of Burton's fascinating creative process) and a music-only track of Elfman's score. The Were-Rabbit disc is packed with a colorful commentary by directors Nick Park and Steve Box, an hour's worth of documentary segments, the short animated film Stage Fright, deleted scenes, and some games. Both: English and French, Dolby Digital 5.1; anamorphic widescreen; dual layer. Corpse Bride: [PG] Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1; letterboxed (1.78:1). Were-Rabbit: [G] English and Spanish, Dolby Surround; letterboxed (1.85:1).
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