STUDIO: Dreamworks Home Entertainment
MSRP: $19.99
RUNNING TIME: 90 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind-the-scenes on "Cracking Contraptions"

The Pitch

"We’ll stick cozy mysteries in clay, and paint huge-ass grins on them. You can’t stop us, because we’re doing it in my garage."

The Humans

Peter Sallis as Wallace’s Voice; Nick Park and Co. playing God for everything else.

The Nutshell

Wallace is an amiable English gentleman, who, as his hobby, likes to invent things. He invents machines to automate his morning ritual. He invents a sheep-shearing machine, a rocket ship, a pair of robotic trousers to take his dog, Gromit, on walks while Wallace enjoys a cuppa and some cheese. The man can’t be stopped. He’s like Rube Goldberg, or a British Tom Swift, minus the Ultrasonic Cycloplane (though I’m sure he could come up with one of those, too).

Enduring his master’s eccentricities is Gromit, a dog who is if not more intelligent than his owner then at least more socially conscious. Gromit bails Wallace out of the latter’s many misadventures and, in classic comedy formula, the dog never gets his due.

Using Wallace’s crazy inventions as catalysts, the stories go from the fantastic to the adventurous, with a trip to the moon (which really is made of cheese), a brush with sheep rustlers, and a run-in with a psychopathic penguin.

Beautiful desolation.

The Package

Included on this single disc are all three Wallace & Gromit short films (A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave) as well as the ten micro-shorts in the "Cracking Contraptions" series made in 2002. These two-minute interludes focus each on a particular wacky invention of Wallace’s, and the resulting torment and anxiety that Gromit is forced to wade through.

There’s not much in the way of special features: a preview for the recently-opened Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette in which the talented people at Aardman Studios discuss the characters of Wallace and Gromit and the challenges in animating the pair.

All the shorts are presented in fullscreen in Dolby Digital 2.0, and I don’t know why you’d want more than that. If you want a widescreen W&G experience, go to the theater this afternoon.

The Lowdown

The talented creators at Aardman Studios have deft hands not only for the manipulation of their miniature world, but also for the pacing of an adventure. They demonstrated with Chicken Run that the lengthy process of animating their characters would not interfere with the tight execution of a good action scene. These three shorts, while they could be seen as practice runs for the feature films Aardman wold create, are perfectly successful with their own, self-contained nuggets of goodness.

Each of the shorts borrows from a well-established trope of escapist literature: there’s a visit to a strange land, complete with an encounter with a strange creature in A Grand Day Out; there’s a Wodehouse-inspired localized mystery in The Wrong Trousers; and there’s an encounter with a Bizarro Wallace and Gromit, a perversion of our heroes’ good-natured characters in A Close Shave’s antagonist dog. The shorts set themselves apart from their inspirations through the uniqueness of their characters in a fine example of good writing expanding on familiar themes.

The last constitutional of the Pale Green Pants With No One Inside Them.

Making a gradual shift from the fantastic to the mysterious, these animated shorts have simple enough plots to make them appealing to children (my personal theory is that if they can remember and mime the plot points on the playground, they’ll take to the story like bears to flesh) while containing a level of artistry that ought to delight any older, warm-hearted members of the audience.

7 out of 10