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In The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the late Peter Sallis voiced one of Britain’s most enduring comedy legends

The zany, cheese-loving inventor Wallace and his unflappable companion Gromit are the height of British humor.

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Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Every weekend, we pick a movie you can stream that dovetails with current events. Old, new, blockbuster, arthouse: They’re all fair game. What you can count on is a weekend watch that sheds new light on the week that was. The movie of the week for June 10 to 16 is The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), which is available to digitally rent on Amazon, Vudu, iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.

The great Peter Sallis died last Friday at the age of 96. Sallis had a long acting career, both on screen and as a voice actor, with credits under his belt for everything from Last of the Summer Wine and Doctor Who to the voice of Rat in The Wind in the Willows.

But to many audiences, he was best known and loved as the voice of the batty cheese-loving inventor Wallace of the Wallace and Gromit films. (The role was passed on to Ben Whitehead in 2011.)

Wallace and his silent, clever dog companion Gromit starred in four short films (A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, and A Matter of Loaf and Death) and a number of small spots, but their finest work is probably the 2005 feature film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Like all of the tales starring the pair, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was created through stop-motion animation. And it’s utterly delightful.

As the name betrays, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is kind of a horror film, though it’s certainly the cutest horror film of all time. The village in which Wallace and Gromit live is preparing for its annual contest to see who can grow the best giant vegetable; the winner gets the coveted Golden Carrot Award. But rabbits are plaguing everyone’s efforts and threatening the health of the giant vegetables.

A scene from The Curse of the Were Rabbit.
Pesky rabbit.

Sensing an opportunity, the ever-resourceful Wallace starts a security and pest-control business dubbed Anti-Pesto. Even more resourcefully, he decides he should just get rid of the rabbits’ proclivity for carrots by inventing the Mind Manipulation-O-Matic, which brainwashes the little pests. But in typical Wallace fashion, it goes awry.

From there, things get zany. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has it all: Community! Romance! Sci-fi! A bunch of pesky clay bunnies! Even some fright! Of course, it all comes out fine in the end, and there is cheese.

But that’s the genius of Wallace and Gromit (and its creator, Nick Park). It’s deeply British, with a commitment to order and tradition and tea. But it’s also hilarious far beyond the borders of Britain, with goofy little stories that adults and children can enjoy equally. And it doesn’t feel the need to spike your adrenaline with an eye-popping musical assault or an exhausting onslaught of CGI. It’s just funny, sweet, and imaginative, with visual gags and gentle jokes that never really get old.

And though the films aren’t trying to be much more than fun and entertaining, they also serve to remind viewers of a little lesson: that the health of a community is in how they pitch in together to guard against fear — something that many Brits have reminded us in the past few weeks, as they responded courageously to real-life, non-humorous terror attacks in their own country. Keeping calm and carrying on is baked into the British culture, whether it’s in response to serious attacks or just in a children’s cartoon.

Wallace and Gromit will live on past Sallis. But his part in creating some of the world’s most beloved films means his legacy will live on, too. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find some cheese.

Watch the trailer for The Curse of the Were-Rabbit:

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