WHAT TO WATCH ON TV
Stream On: Claymation is alive and well with Wallace, Gromit and Shaun the Sheep

By on April 9, 2020

Wallace, an incurable tinkerer, lives with his dog and best friend Gromit, who likes knitting, playing chess, reading the newspaper, tea and cooking, in Manchester.(IMDb.com)

In 1953, Art Clokey, who had just completed film studies at USC, combined stop-motion photography and clay to create the short film Gumbasia, a surreal montage of moving and expanding lumps of clay set to music in a parody of Disney’s Fantasia. Encouraged to use the technique for children’s films, he created Gumby, an odd clay creature, who had adventures with his pony sidekick and went on the become a cultural icon that has persisted to this day. Those lucky enough to remember Gumby from childhood had reason to rejoice when animator Nick Park created A Grand Day Out, featuring Wallace and Gromit, in 1990, using “claymation.”

WALLACE AND GROMIT (Amazon.com; Prime Video; and the series’ website) 1990-1995 [TVPG]

This series consists of four short films and one feature-length film, but has spawned numerous spin-offs and TV adaptations. The series centers on Wallace, a good-natured, eccentric, cheese-loving inventor, along with his companion Gromit, a silent yet loyal and intelligent anthropomorphic dog.

The Wallace and Gromit series uses all of claymation’s charms–the models and sets are beautifully detailed with a retro 1950’s look, which is also reflected in the archaic English dialogue. All of the effects are practical, with no computer imaging used, save in one scene in the full-length movie The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).

This movie attracted Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes to it as Wallace’s love interest and nemesis respectively. In it, Wallace begins a humane pest control business, called “Anti-Pesto,” which is engaged by Lady Tottington (Bonham Carter) to keep rabbits from her garden, with which she hopes to win a giant-vegetable competition. Fiennes plays Lord Victor Quartermaine, a cruel upper-class bounder and hunter who is courting Lady Tottington. But when Wallace captures a group of rabbits and with an invention seeks to turn them against vegetables, through the magic of insane screenwriting, Wallace is transformed himself into a giant rabbit during the full moon. Okay.

The film, and the whole series of shorts, is charming, funny, exciting, suspenseful, and again, charming. The trailer for this delightful film is here; the shorts are less ambitious but no less fun.

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Shaun the Sheep, shown here with Bitzer, the farm’s sheepdog, and Shirley, contemplates life on the oddest farm in England. (IMDb.com)

SHAUN THE SHEEP (Amazon.com; Prime Video; and the series’ website) 2008- [TVY]

Shaun the sheep was a character in 1995’s A Close Shave 2002’s Wallace and Gromit’s Cracking Contraptions and given his own series in 2008. Shaun, an unusually bright and clever sheep, lives with his flock at Mossy Bottom, a traditional small northern English farm. In each episode, their latest attempt to add excitement to their dull lives as livestock snowballs into a fantastic sitcom-style escapade. This usually brings them into conflict–and sometimes into partnership–with the farm sheepdog Bitzer, while they all try to avoid discovery by the obtuse Farmer. The flock might be enjoying a dance party in the barn, but when the Farmer hears suspicious sounds from within and flings wide the doors, he finds the sheep standing together, staring at him.

The only dialogue is a series of grunts and “Hmmm’s” from the Farmer and various animal noises from the various animals, so the escapades are marked by pantomime, slapstick and sight gags, in the same archaic beautiful universe inhabited by Wallace and Gromit. The episodes are twenty minutes long, comprising seven-minute vignettes, the only continuity being the characters, so they stream well together.

Here’s a teaser for the newest series.

So it’s a good time now for some medical drama. Next time, Hugh Laurie stars in House and Chance. Email me and follow Stream On OBX on Twitter.

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites.)

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