QUICKLY CHURNED OUT DURING BBC PROMS 2012 FOR UNI, BASED UPON THE ‘WALLACE AND GROMIT’S MUSICAL MARVELS’ SHOW, PERHAPS RESULTING IN ONE OF THE DAFTEST SUBJECTS AND HEADLINES OF MY OEUVRE… (29/07/2012)
Christmas brings many highly anticipated specials, whether Christmas related or not. However, very few ever receive as much attention and plugging as 1995’s A Close Shave, the third short film in the Wallace and Gromit series.It wasn’t a series finale, or extended Christmas special. It was just a thirty-minute animation and one man and his dog, but we were sure excited. If you weren’t, the BBC rammed it down our throats anyway, with its devoted Wallace and Gromit idents that it played before BBC shows for days beforehand.
So, what has this got to do with me? A university assignment called for me to choose and analyze the soundtrack of a film. However, I was disappointed that I was limited to feature films. Millions of people watched and adored this duo’s sheepish escapades; so don’t even dare to tell me that this isn’t ‘popular’ music.
The soundtrack was by composed by Julian Nott, who has been on hand to compose the music to every Wallace and Gromit project since 1989’s A Grand Day Out. Within just thirty minutes, I think that it’s a lecture in everything that a soundtrack should be. Really. This is why.
It has its own well-known theme
And it’s playing in your head before you have even pressed play.
The Wallace and Gromit series is in a funny middle ground. Huge blockbuster films have iconic theme songs, most famously those penned by John Williams (Star Wars, Jurassic Park, E.T. etc.) and TV shows play their themes on their weekly, maybe daily basis.While there was a feature film, and a few other things here and there, there have been just four episodes of the main series over the course of 18 years. Why should anyone know (or even care about) its theme song? Well, they do. If you have ever seen a single episode just once, you know it.
It’s about fun and (the dreaded C-word…) catchy as a show with an episode about a mass-murderer who is out for her thirteenth victim can possibly be. Speaking of which…
It brings credibility to a truly ridiculous situation
Well, sort of. The characters are plain goofy, for example Gromit clearly has far more common sense than his owner, something that is apparently normal in West Wallaby Street where animals, whether penguins or dogs can be arrested. They are inventors and window cleaners, though Gromit does most of the work.
This film is about sheep going missing and the quest down the road to rescue them. Already it sounds like this is all a bit of fun and games. A bit of a slapstick-style giggle. Plug your ears, or set it to chirpy Charlie Chaplin piano, and that might just work. But Julian Nott’s take on the situation is bloody terrifying.
The character that stands in their way is another dog, Preston, who aside from a couple of growls, is primarily mute for the whole film. However, his demonic theme makes Wendolene’s pooch far more imposing. Our characters are in serious dangers on several instances, and the music sounds genuinely perilous.
This even happens in an earlier scene when Shaun the Sheep is first sucked into Wallace’s machine, and we’re not quite sure what is going on, only for it to turn out that Shaun is getting a shave.
Later on, after resolving a problem there is a massive ‘ta-dah!’ after a celebratory ‘baaaaa!’ from Shaun, which makes it sound as though he has just saved the world.
An earlier scene in which Gromit is framed for kidnapping sheep, a montage of newspapers are shown about ‘Woollygate’, revealing his life sentence, is genuinely upsetting. You’re not supposed to care so much for a dog-shaped blob of plasticine, but Nott’s music is so emotional that it really makes us do so. Poor Gromit.
Bringing out emotion from limited characters
The primary aim of a soundtrack is to exaggerate the emotion of the characters and give the correct tone to the scenes. Music can tell you whether that falling character is plummeting to their death, or whether they will hit the ground with a ‘BOING’ and walk away.
That emotional connection with the characters is essential and relies on the musical exaggeration of their emotions for it to work, and it does. Gromit’s head is almost entirely a nose, with almost all of his facial emotions coming from his eyebrow.
And while the human characters are lucky enough to have mouths to speak, smile and scream with, they do still meet a bit of a conundrum. You see, this woman is supposed to be Wallace’s latest love interest.
During their first meeting, it is love at first sight for those two, but for us viewers, unless you have a rather interesting fetish, Miss Wendolene Ramsbottom isn’t the most attractive of figures. She seems to have forgotten most of her teeth, and rivals Gromit in the nose-to-remainder-of-face ratio battle.
It could do with a love theme to express that she is right up Wallace’s street without her even saying a word, and sure enough, the soundtrack delivers.
It brings scale to a limited setting
On the subjects of limitations, while the situations might be outlandish, the surroundings are somewhat limited. Aardman Animations set out to create a human world entirely out of a substance that you could touch. No special effects. No help from computers. That means that outside of being stylized, the visuals aren’t particularly spectacular. However, it manages it with its sheer scale. A full orchestra performs as Gromit gets a spectacular aerial view of the town by night, ready to dive in his plane (equipped with a deadly porridge gun), and Wallace is in a high speed chase on his motorcycle. The scale and the speed really show, and I think that it can be credited almost entirely to the music.
Such extremities of emotion are squeezed into such a small space of time, and it doesn’t sound stupid. Nor do each of those emotions sounds overblown or like caricatures.
It wasn’t the first Wallace and Gromit episode to really pull it off, with 1992’s The Wrong Trousers making a penguin seem sinister and turning a toy train chase into a matter of life and death, though in that instance it was far more fun. A Close Shave was the first time that the duo faced true peril in a scary setting.
I’ve always felt that A Close Shave had an even wider scope (which for starters brought the number of speaking characters up to a staggering TWO), stretching from cheesy love story to the possibility that our heroes would be churned into dog food, and it pulls it off perfectly.