Imagine you work for DreamWorks and you’re trying to promote your latest would-be blockbuster, “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” You need someone to do the interview circuit, but the movie’s most recognizable players are made of plasticine clay. What’s a marketing team to do?
The studio’s solution is to send out the film’s co-director/co-screenwriter, Nick Park, the creator of the Wallace and Gromit characters. There’s just one problem: Park is just not cut out for interviews.
At one point in speaking to The Harvard Crimson, he loses his train of thought and pauses silently just long enough to make everyone in the room uncomfortable. He may just be the only world-famous filmmaker in existence who will turn into a nervous wreck in the presence of college journalists.
All of this, of course, makes him devastatingly charming, in a shy kid-brother sort of way. That same sentiment can be applied to his work, in which the some of the most adorable characters ever put on screen are made from children’s modeling clay.
Wallace and Gromit themselves were among Park’s first creations, brainstormed as part of a graduate project while he was still a student at the National Film and Television School in London. Initially, Gromit was envisioned as a cat, but underwent a transformation when Park realized “a dog was just easier to make.”
Park relished his new creations: Wallace, an inventor whose light bulbs are always a little dim, and Gromit, his faithful companion, whose silence belies his ingenuity. Park liked that the situation was “almost like a role reversal, with the dog being the smart one and the man being the stupid one.”
Though the Wallace and Gromit shorts brought him international renown, he was initially wary of putting the characters into a full-length feature. “Sometimes the fact that they’re short gives them their charm,” he says.
After releasing 2000’s “Chicken Run” to universal acclaim, Park started contemplating ideas for a Wallace and Gromit feature. He’d already used Hitchcock in his short “The Wrong Trousers,” and paid homage to “Brief Encounter” in “A Close Shave.” He began thinking about forties werewolf movies.
“We then started exploring ideas of creatures not eating children, but vegetables treated as if they are children,” he says. However, the allure of the movie is not in the plot itself, but in the ingenuity of the ideas that shape the plasticine minutiae.
Foremost among these ideas are Wallace’s bizarre inventions, like the Bunny Vac memorably featured in “Were-Rabbit.” In styling these, Park is “always looking for things a bit out of the ordinary that have a ‘Wallaceness’ to them, a task that you could really do without.”
It seems Park’s good taste is widespread: last week, “Were-Rabbit” topped the U.S. box office, a feat that can’t possibly go unnoticed by the DreamWorks execs. Sadly, tragedy struck the very next day, as a warehouse fire destroyed almost all of the figurines Park had been developing since the eighties.
What this means for the future of Park’s company, Aardman Animations, is unclear. Park has already started work on full-length CGI feature on sewer vermin in London, which he describes as “a kind of ‘African Queen’ with rats.” He says that he’s already discussed a “Chicken Run” sequel with his collaborators, but wants to be sure it’s “idea-led” rather than financially motivated.
But regardless of his next move, his financial backers at the studio can rest easy: even if Park is far from the cocksure celebrity one typically encounters at a promotional interview, his persona—like his movies—sure knows how to charm.
—Staff writer Ben B. Chung can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.