A Close Shave. Dir. Nick Park. BBC. 1995.
Following the great success of director Nick Park’s A Grand Day Out in 1990 and 1993’s The Wrong Trousers, eccentric inventor Wallace and his canine companion Gromit returned in 1995 with A Close Shave. The action begins as the duo – now running a window cleaning service – have their breakfast interrupted by Shaun the sheep, who has escaped from a mysterious lorry. The pair are then called to clean the windows of Wendolene’s wool shop, whose stocks are inexplicably full in spite of widely-reported sheep-rustling incidents. Whilst Wallace is distracted by Wendolene’s charms, Gromit is framed for the recent rustling by the true criminal, robotic dog Preston, and in freeing a flock of sheep Preston had trapped, Gromit inadvertently locks himself in Preston’s lorry to be driven straight to jail. With the help of Shaun and the other sheep, Wallace stages a dramatic jailbreak, before they discover the true extent of Preston’s evil.
A Close Shave fits snugly within the conventions of the family comedy genre. Its wide-mouthed clay figures have a cartoonish appeal; whilst the film’s fast pace and imaginative climax will keep even its youngest viewers entertained. Meanwhile, the richly detailed scenery, bringing to mind the romantic notion of a quaint northern town has more than enough to reward multiple viewings for older audiences. What’s more, beyond the initial pangs of nostalgia, viewers can see an incredible level of detail in every set in the film. The sets are delightful to a family audience, their vivid detail creating a sense that this is a real world in which we can lose ourselves. Yet, the visible fingerprints on the characters illustrate the self-awareness of the filmmakers – they want us to know that this world has been created by humans, which for older viewers can only add a sense of wonder when they consider the sheer amount of work involved. Plus, the entire film is full to the brim with puns and wordplay. In fact, several examples have been mentioned here already – Wendolene might be considered to pun on ‘windolene’, referencing Wallace and Gromit’s business; Shaun’s name is an allusion to his close shave in Wallace’s knit-o-matic; whilst the name A Close Shave is itself a pun, referring both to the shorn sheep and the characters’ narrow escape from catastrophe at the end of the film. This self-awareness in the film’s finer details gives A Close Shave such richness, which carries through into the story. In its chase sequence, the film strays into the territory of adventure films, with twists aplenty as the tension mounts to an ambitious finale, finally resolved by an unlikely hero in Shaun. However, the filmmakers are careful to keep comedy at the film’s heart, with much of the action actually playfully parodying the established adventure genre. Park has acknowledged that the scene in which Wallace suits up to a stirring soundtrack pays homage to Thunderbirds. The mechanism used to start the engine of Wallace’s motorcycle is nothing more than a boot on a pole – his inventions are of a comedic, friendly kind.This nostalgia for a simpler time permeates the film, not only contributing to its charming family-friendly humour, but also providing an interesting counterpoint to the ultra-modern ‘cyberdog’ Preston – the clear antagonist – as the film comes to a moral conclusion on the effects of modern industry in the countryside.
Considering they are officially pets, Gromit and Preston enjoy special status in the film. Gromit’s first scene in the film sees him sitting up in bed in a fully furnished room, knitting a scarf, with a bookshelf in the background containing a tome on ‘prehistoric life’. Meanwhile, Preston sits in the front of the lorry outside the duo’s house, and is later seen driving it himself. This is instantly juxtaposed by the figure of Wallace, also in bed, but with no clues about his character other than the framed portrait of some cheese on his wall. These are seriously smart animals, and from the beginning we are bound to expect much of them.
Gromit and Preston are presented as intelligent animals (00:33 and 21:54).
However, it appears that Gromit and Preston are rather unusual in this respect. The other animals which feature heavily in A Close Shave – the sheep – behave exactly as expected. Comically, they are able to form acrobatic formations during the chase scene, but they do so together and without hesitation, no individual standing out, with the exception of course of Shaun. Gromit and Preston, on the other hand, do not look like ordinary dogs. On Gromit’s morning newspaper, though, we see the headline ‘Jack Russell chews cricket ball!’, accompanied by a picture of a furry, traditional-looking dog.