The Wrong Trousers (1993)
Since first appearing 25 years ago, Wallace and Gromit have become as English as cricket and afternoon tea. The creator of Wallace and Gromit Nick Park earned this place in the national psyche by continuing to make distinctively British comedy shorts which also set a new standard for quality and craftsmanship in stop-motion animation.
The claymation comedy duo of Wallace and Gromit made their debut in A Grand Day Out (1989) which Nick Park created over a six year period while attending the UK’s National Film and Television School. In their first outing, eccentric inventor Wallace and his resourceful pet dog Gromit construct a homemade rocket ship in order to vacation on the moon and experience the exciting new cheeses on offer there. Throughout the series of films, Wallace is depicted as gifted tinkerer with a penchant for convoluted contraptions that would make Rube Goldberg proud.
A Grand Day Out proved to be immensely popular and Park was recognized with a BAFTA for Best Animated Film. In 1991, Nick Park had the rare distinction of being nominated twice in the same category at the Academy Awards. That year, the Oscar for Best Animated Short film was not given to A Grand Day Out but instead to another hilarious stop-motion film directed by Park; Creature Comforts (1989). But not to worry, Wallace and Gromit would go on to win three Academy Awards for The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995) and their first feature The Cure of the Were-Rabbit (2005).
Creature Comforts took unscripted recordings of everyday British citizens being interviewed and animated them into zoo animals sharing their thoughts about life in captivity. Creature Comforts was Park’s first project with Aardman Studios in Bristol, the animation studio at which he would create all future Wallace and Gromit films. In 2003 Aardman Studios developed Creature Comforts into a television series for ITV in Britain and an American version aired on CBS in 2007.
Since 1997, Aardman Studios has worked with DreamWorks and later with Sony Pictures to lend that distinctive Wallace and Gromit style to animated features like Chicken Run (2000), Flushed Away (2006) and The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012).
For me, the most remarkable trait of Park’s Wallace and Gromit cartoons is how well they each function as a mini-movie. In The Wrong Trousers (1993), Park and his animators use all the cinematic tricks at their disposal to create a sustained atmosphere of mystery and danger including evocative lighting, suspenseful pacing and cinematic scoring. Plot-wise, The Wrong Trousers begins like an early Hitchcock movie; Wallace decides to rent out a room to an anthropomorphized penguin, but there is something about the lodger that Gromit just doesn’t trust. Fearing for his owner’s safety, Gromit begins to follow the penguin and soon gets himself drawn into a criminal plot that must be seen to be believed (and even then it’s pretty unbelievable). Though it’s only 30 minutes long, The Wrong Trousers manages to pack in a laser-grid diamond heist, a high speed getaway aboard a runaway train and the most uncooperative pair of futuristic Techno-trousers.
Nick Park and Aardman Studios have used the popularity of Wallace and Gromit towards a number of charitable causes and educational projects including a science-based program called Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention created for BBC One. Park also set up the The Wallace and Gromit Children’s Foundation which raises money for children’s hospitals in the UK as well as Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Appeal which benefits the Bristol Children’s Hospital.