Cards on the table, this is technically a short film. That being said, it is usually run as part of a set of TV specials, which includes shorts, and I didn’t really think about the distinction until I had already finished the list. It didn’t stand out because the British are always weird about their episode ordering and number per season, and Wallace and Gromit is so British that it makes Harry Potter look like Malcolm X.
Wallace (Peter Sallis) is a tinkerer with weird teeth whose inventions often backfire or are borderline ridiculous solutions to simple problems, such as “using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut” (which actually does happen in another short film). Rube Goldberg is assumed to be one of his ancestors, and whoever Rube ended up mating with to make him clearly lacked the “common sense” gene. Wallace lives in Wigan, England, at 62 West Wallaby Way. He reads the Morning, Afternoon, and Evening Post. His meals are generally made up of crackers, cheese, and tea. If he were any more British, he’d fart “God Save the Queen” after Elevenses.
Gromit is his dog, who, despite being anthropomorphic and generally much more intelligent than his owner, does not talk. His facial expressions, however, speak volumes and are one of the more impressive visual accomplishments in Claymation. Actually, almost anything in this show is an impressive accomplishment in Claymation. Anyone who has ever had a dog has said “my dog is looking at me like Gromit.” He has an engineering degree from Dogwarts University. He enjoys knitting, playing chess, and cooking. His mute nature allows him to be one of the greatest straight-men on film, which perfectly contrasts with Wallace’s eccentricities.
“The Wrong Trousers” is the best Wallace and Gromit because it is both the most accessible, and, in some ways, the most ludicrous. Wallace buys a pair of “techno-trousers” (pants that walk automatically via remote panel) off of NASA in order to allow Gromit to go for walks without him. Wallace, however, fails to get them to work properly. Gromit instead ends up using them to paint the ceiling after reading the instruction manual, which Wallace forgot about.
Next, enter the villain: A cruel, merciless beast known as “Feathers the Penguin.” Because he’s a penguin. A penguin who rents a room from Wallace in order to commit a jewel heist while putting a rubber glove on his head so that he looks like a chicken, because why the hell not? Wallace ends up trapped in the techno-trousers by the penguin, and is sent on a Buster Keaton-esque test-drive around town. For people who like British humour, this sequence is hilarious. To Americans, it’s still pretty good. The final sequence of animated slapstick that takes place during and after the heist is equally amazing, from start to finish.
Wallace and Gromit sometimes takes crap for not being particularly sophisticated or complicated humor, but I actually would argue that’s what makes it amazing. By having minimal dialogue, and working mostly through physical comedy and expressions, the show is universally funny to those who like slapstick. And if you like slapstick at all, you will love The Wrong Trousers.
Also, I’m pretty sure part of Edgar Wright’s version of Ant-man was based on this sequence:
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