It's fall, which means it's now safe for the grown-ups to come out and play. You've got your venerated auteurs -- your Cronenbergs, your Polanskis, your Malicks. You've got your Broadway babies -- your "Rent," your "Producers," your "Proof." You've got your pedigreed literary adaptations -- your "Everything Is Illuminated," your "Memoirs of a Geisha," your "Pride and Prejudice."
Classy company, all of it. But the one movie I plan to catch whether I review it or not; the one movie I'll brave mall parking, multiplex lines and cell-phone-toting, popcorn-munching, constantly chattering seatmates to see; the one movie I'll actually pay for isn't on any list of This Year's Most Important Movies, nor does it feature any of Hollywood's Biggest Stars.
In fact, its biggest star is a dog made out of clay.
It's called "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," and it's the long, long-awaited feature-length version of a series of charming animated short films by British clay animator Nick Park. For most filmgoers, Park is best known as the co-director of "Chicken Run," the delightful 2000 family film in which a coop full of chickens hatch a Steve McQueen-style escape from their fricasseed fate. "Chicken Run" was a deserved hit, and it introduced millions to the artistry of Park and his colleagues at Aardman Animation, whose sublime clay creatures had heretofore been the purview of only a select few among the cognoscenti.
But as Aardman fans no doubt told anyone within grabbing distance, you haven't really seen the outfit in action until you've seen Wallace and Gromit, whom Park first brought to life in 1989 in "A Grand Day Out." In that short film, a dotty amateur inventor named Wallace and his far more intelligent dog, Gromit, run out of Wallace's beloved cheese and take an unexpected trip to the moon. In succeeding "Wallace & Gromit" adventures, the duo foil a wily art thief ("The Wrong Trousers," 1993) and an evil robotic sheep poacher ("A Close Shave," 1995). All three films are available in "Wallace & Gromit" and Aardman boxed sets, but fans have had to wait 10 years for their heroes to star in a full-length theatrical feature.
In "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," Wallace and Gromit try to find out who's been sabotaging their town's annual vegetable-growing contest. But aficionados know that the plot is purely incidental. The charm of Park's writing and animation lies in their subtle, cheeky wit, their warmth and attention to detail and the amazing physical expressivity of the characters, from Wallace wiggling his fingers in anticipation of a nice piece of Wensleydale to Gromit furrowing his brow in silent disapproval. There are a lot of things to look forward to this fall, but chief among them will be seeing Gromit finally furrowing that brow on the big screen.