Huzzah, hooray, 'tis here: "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" arrives not a moment too soon for fans of a dotty English inventor named Wallace and his quietly superior dog, Gromit, both of whom happen to be made of modeling clay.

"Were-Rabbit," directed by animators Nick Park and Steve Box, marks Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis) and Gromit's feature film debut, and a long-awaited one since the duo appeared in their first short film in 1989. Yes, they've gone a bit high-tech since then -- Park and Box reportedly used hundreds of computerized effects in this film -- but they're still the same old W&G, right down to the barely discernable thumbprints on their faces.

"Were-Rabbit" opens with the team working at yet another ingenious business called Anti-Pesto, which humanely removes four-legged creatures from their town's vegetable gardens. The stakes are unusually high, as the villagers -- including Gromit -- are lovingly preparing their produce to compete in the annual vegetable growing contest. Things are just swell until one of Wallace's schemes -- involving a gizmo that "extracts unlovely thoughts and desires" -- goes awry, and the gardens are soon being vandalized by the King Kong of rabbits.

The film should be popular with both adults and children, if only for "Were-Rabbit's" verbal and visual puns and the sublime physical comedy talents of Gromit, who might be the most expressive silent movie star since Buster Keaton. Each scowl, glower and askance glance is pure magic in a film that features wonderful vocal performances by Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes.

-- Ann Hornaday

Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis) and his loyal dog, Gromit, in their full-length feature debut.