The Wallace & Gromit series of films (consisting of four shorts and a feature-length motion picture) have become a staple in stop-motion animation, and in British popular culture. At its core, Wallace & Gromit is about the contrast between the simplistic and the complex, which always seem to come together in the series. Perhaps none of the Wallace & Gromit films showcase this better than their debut short, 1989’s A Grand Day Out.
A Grand Day Out sees eccentric inventor Wallace and his silent dog Gromit on a bank holiday, and they’re deciding where to go for a picnic. When Wallace decides to take a break from searching for a vacation spot and have some tea time – complete with cheese and crackers – he notices that there’s not a block of cheese left in the house.
With all the stores closed for the holiday, Wallace comes up with the idea to spend their holiday “somewhere where’s there’s cheese.” After briefly thinking of a location, Wallace and Gromit decide to go to the be-all, end-all of cheese locations, the moon. And so Wallace & Gromit begin construction on a rocket ship so that they can take a trip to the moon and sample some cheese.
The story is both simple and whimsically perplexing. When all is said and done, the half hour short really is about little more than Wallace and Gromit wanting to try some cheese, yet the simple plot is turned into something more fanciful by becoming a trip to the moon. It really only goes into that direction because it can. Being an animated film, why not go to the moon when craving some cheese?
Admittedly, the character models for both Wallace and Gromit look a bit rushed, as though creator Nick Park hadn’t yet finalized what he wanted them to look like. Wallace in particular looks less fleshed-out in regards to character design than he would in the subsequent films. The character models as a whole look clumpier than they would in future episodes, complete with visible finger prints on their plasticine models.
While the characters look a bit crude compared to later entries, the way in which they move shows a level of dedication and complexity that is rarely approached in animation, even (if not especially) by stop-motion standards.
Take, for example, the scenes where Wallace and Gromit build their rocket ship. Wallace draws up the blueprints, with the camera focusing on the character’s process of drawing. As his hand and pencil glide across the paper, an image begins to appear as though Wallace is actually the one doing the drawing. Another scene has Wallace and Gromit working in unison with a saw and hammer, respectively. As Wallace moves the saw in and out, Gromit hammers in some nails whenever the saw retracts. It’s mind-boggling to think about where the animation even began with such scenes.
This becomes all the more impressive when you gain the knowledge that Nick Park create a good deal of A Grand Day Out by himself. The film started production in 1982 as a graduation project, with Aardman studios hiring Park some three years later, leaving him to finish the short part-time, with Aardman eventually helping finish the short and releasing it (which ultimately lead to its titular characters becoming the faces of the animation studio). By the time it was released in 1989, actor Peter Sallis (who voiced Wallace for a mere fifty Pounds) was shocked that Park actually managed to finish the film.
A Grand Day Out is admittedly much slower paced than the subsequent Wallace & Gromit shorts, and given that it’s also shorter than them, it ultimately means that not a whole lot happens during its running time, despite the extravagant concept of a moon-based vacation. Some may find that it doesn’t hold up as well as its successors due to its slower nature. But the attention to the fine details of the film are obvious from the get-go. And for those who are thrilled by the technical craft of animation, A Grand Day Out remains a wonder.