Founded by Peter Lord and David Sproxton in 1972, Aardman Animations is a successful British animation company whose work consists mostly of stop-motion clay animated projects using plasticine (in the 2000s they successfully added CG animation to their methods of animation). They’ve created a lot of successful commercials, short films, and TV shows, including Creature Comforts, Shaun the Sheep, and, of course, Wallace and Gromit. All four Wallace and Gromit shorts (1989’s A Grand Day Out, 1993’s The Wrong Trousers, 1995’s A Close Shave, and 2008’s A Matter of Loaf and Death) have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short (with the middle two winning). The man responsible for the famous duo is Nick Park, who has worked at Aardman since 1985 (and whose Creature Comforts had won Aardman its first Oscar). In 1997, Aardman announced a deal with Dreamworks to co-finance and distribute Chicken Run, Aardman’s first feature-length film. For this installment of Animation Corner, I’ll be taking a look back at Aardman’s first two feature films, 2000’s Chicken Run and 2005’s Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (both of which were co-directed by Nick Park).
Co-directed by Nick Park and Peter Lord, Chicken Run was released in the summer of 2000 to critical and financial success. The story centers on a group of hens, led by the rebellious Ginger, who seek the help of a smooth-talking Rhode Island red cockerel named Rocky so that they could escape from their farm before their owner Mrs. Tweedy turns them into chicken pies. It features the voices of Mel Gibson, Julia Sawalha, Timothy Spall, Phil Daniels, Tony Haygarth, and Miranda Richardson as Mrs. Tweedy. Grossing $106 million domestically and $118 million internationally (for a worldwide total of $224 million), Chicken Run has the distinction of being the highest-grossing stop-motion animated film ever (its budget was $45 million). It was also the recipient of several critics awards for Best Animated Feature (including the NY Film Critics, L.A. Film Critics, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association), and it was even nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture- Musical or Comedy (it most likely would’ve won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature had the category existed at the time of its release).
Five years later, Dreamworks distributed Aardman’s second stop-motion animated feature film, 2005’s Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Co-directed by Nick Park and Steve Box, the story centers on an eccentric inventor named Wallace and his silent but emotive dog Gromit as they attempt to get rid of a mutant rabbit before it ruins a village’s annual vegetable competition. It features the voices of Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter, and Ralph Fiennes. The film holds the distinction of being the world’s first vegetarian horror film. A critical and financial success, it received a number of critics awards, as well as the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (Aardman’s first Oscar win in the feature category). It grossed $56 million domestically and $136 million internationally (for a worldwide total of $192 million), however, Dreamworks deemed it a financial disappointment (even though the film only had a budget of $30 million). Aardman deemed it financially successful enough to make another Wallace and Gromit short in 2008.