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Copyright (c) 2011 Jeffrey MacDonald
Animation Context and History ANIM 501-A01
November 14, 2011
When Nick Park introduced his quirky characters Wallace and Gromit to the world, the reception was overwhelming. His characters have transcended cultural boundaries despite their uniquely British mannerisms, comedic style and way of life. Their Briticisms have gained them great popularity, and the films have been translated into nearly twenty languages throughout the globe. The elements of Wallace and Gromit built an international following, giving the world a truly British film experience. Nick Park’s well-loved films however are inspired by far more than mere British caricatures. Time and time again in reviews on Wallace and Gromit films starting with The Wrong Trousers released in 1993, the name Hitchcock or term ‘Hitchcockian’ has been associated with the comedic duo. Giovanni Fazio from the Japan Times stated in his review of A Matter of Loaf and Death that the film “gives us everything we've come to love from a Wallace & Gromit film: moody film noir and shadowy Hitchcockian cinematography applied to a world of dopey-looking clay puppets.” However, this is where nearly every comparison to Hitchcock ends. The mention of Hitchcock in relation to the Wallace and Gromit films are plentiful, but how the films are specifically Hitchcockian has yet to be thoroughly examined. There are countless stylistic attributes to be found in a Wallace and Gromit film that can be derived from any number of cinematic influences ranging from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, to King Kong(Fig. 1), or even cheeky humor lifted from the iconic Loony Tunes character Bugs Bunny. However it is Hitchcock’s hand that is most evident in the storytelling and cinematic approach to Wallace and Gromit.
Fig. 1 The Curse of The Were-Rabbit (2005) King Kong
This paper looks to build a stronger understanding of the influence Hitchcock had on the Wallace and Gromit films by looking beyond the superficial and seemingly over used term Hitchcockian to reveal deeper parallels through the analysis of Hitchcock’s storytelling techniques and visual references appropriated by Nick Park. To draw these comparisons, select films from each director’s filmography were closely studied. The Nick Park films discussed will include A Grand Day Out (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995), The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), and A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008). Complimentary Hitchcock films include The Lodger, A Story of the London Fog (1927), Dial M For Murder (1954), Easy Virtue (1928), Secret Agent (1936) and focuses heavily on Psycho (1960). As one who is not a Hitchcock Scholar, intensive research was conducted in regards to important motifs in the Hitchcock films discussed in interviews and commentary by Nick Park. One should walk away from this paper encouraged to continue the exploration of Hitchcock’s influence on Wallace and Gromit, and continue to discover new interrelations between the directors.
German Expressionism, Rain Motif, & The Switch
Though light-hearted, the Wallace and Gromit catalogue contains many elements that can be tied back to early German Expressionism, with roots in the macabre. The importance of shadows, light, abstraction (Fig. 02) and subjective camera angles are crucial elements of German Expressionism as stated by Sidney Gottlieb in his article Early Hitchcock: The German Influence.
Fig. 02 German Expressionistic background from The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
He refers to German Expressionism as “first and foremost a visual cinema.” The influence of German Expressionist film makers such as Robert Wiene are displayed in Hitchcock’s early silent film The Lodger, a Story of the London Fog which has wonderfully expressionistic moments such as when the Lodger first arrives and looks out the window to where the paper boy is selling the latest newspaper headline about The Avenger serial killings.
Fig. 03 The Lodger, A Story of the London Fog (1927)
The light coming through the window casts shadows on the wall and on the Lodger’s face as he stares down at the boy. (Fig. 03) Throughout the Wallace and Gromit films, key lighting around the eyes is a popular method for building a sense of sinister characteristics or suspense. The lighting of Wallace and Gromit often plays a larger more critical role in the development of mood, both psychologically and visually. A technique often used by Hitchcock was his rain motif where he builds a relationship between his character and nature. As seen in Psycho when Marion begins to internalize her fears while driving, the rain grows heavier. Once at the Bate’s hotel, she slowly calms and distracts herself over a sandwich and the rain quickly clears. This treatment can be seen in The Wrong Trousers as Gromit’s psychological state is reflected cinematically while he is slowly replaced by Penguin (Feathers McGraw). As Penguin manipulates the clueless Wallace, the lighting darkens in the progression of scenes culminating in a sky that is expressionistically dreary with faint clouds. (Fig. 04) As Penguin drinks a toast of wine with Wallace in silhouette, the interaction is viewed by Gromit from outside after he emotionally banishes himself to his dog house.
Fig.04 The Wrong Trousers (1993)
The scene ends with heavy rain as Gromit begins to cry while packing his belongings to depart.
The Wrong Trousers is an interesting film in relation to Hitchcock’s The Lodger, a Story of the London Fog for many reasons. The parallels between the two plots indicate that the inspiration for the character of Penguin is roughly based on the lodger. (Fig 05)
Fig. 05 Comparison of The Lodger and Penguin (Feathers McGraw)
Both are suspicious and could be categorized under the German film motif ‘guilt of innocence’, which is depicted by Hitchcock in characters that “are charming as well as potentially or literally murderous.” Penguin appeared to Wallace as the perfect tenant by catering to his every need, when in actuality he was plotting to use Wallace for a diamond heist. After his true identity is discovered the once charming tenant becomes increasingly violent as Gromit attempts to capture him. Both films utilize Hitchcock’s technique of ‘the switch’ where the audience changes their feelings towards a character based on influence by the director. In The Lodger, a Story of the London Fog the Lodger first shows up in dark clothing and cast in shadow, which causes the audience to distrust him. However, once he is suspected of being The Avenger serial killer, his appearance changes to a lighter more trust worthy one to gain sympathy from the audience. Penguin’s character does the opposite, showing up trustworthy and gradually losing this trust, until he ultimately transitions into the villain.
The MacGuffin, Love, & Humor
A discussion of Hitchcock motifs is not without recognition of the MacGuffin and its role within his story arcs. The MacGuffin has been defined in many ways and by numerous Hitchcock Scholars. For simplicity sake in this paper the definition by Michael Walker stating “The MacGuffin is not simply a device to dramatise tensions between the characters, but - like the object of a quest in a myth or folktale - an overvalued object which draws the characters who seek to possess it into life threatening situations” will be used as a conceptual basis for the MacGuffins within the Wallace and Gromit films. The clearest MacGuffin can be found in A Close Shave. In this film, the wool shortage, or simply the wool, acts as a MacGuffin. Introduced in the first scene after the opening credits of the movie, Gromit sits in bed knitting and runs out of wool. The subsequent scene opens with Gromit reading the newspaper and the Headline reads “Wool Shortage”. (Fig. 06) Throughout the first act of the film the wool shortage drives the plot forward.
Fig. 06 A Close Shave (1995) The MacGuffin
During the first scene of the movie, a truck full of sheep stops in front of 62 West Wallaby Street and one of the sheep falls out and proceeds to wander into Wallace and Gromit’s home through Gromit’s dog door. In the rear mirror of the truck, a dimly lit face with a key light around the eyes watches intensely. In this scene the plot and characters have not yet been revealed. Before driving away, the shot cuts to the hanging sign that reads “Wallace & Gromit’s Wash-N-Go Window Cleaning Service”. The next day Wallace receives a phone call from a wool shop in need of window cleaning. It is soon learned that the call for service came from the two shadowy figures in the truck from the previous night, and that they are the sheep rustlers. When Wallace sees Wendolene the shop owner through the window he uses the excuse of the MacGuffin and Gromit’s lack of wool to go into the shop, purchase some yarn balls, and introduce himself. This is also the first female character and love interest for Wallace. Their interaction, Park cites, was inspired to have the feel of the movie Vertigo. This romantic element was introduced by Park after the success of his first two Wallace and Gromit shorts. In an article with Steve Biodrowski, Park discusses the pressure from the success of the first shorts and using romance as an avenue to not try and recapture the previous films but to expand upon them. His goal was to introduce something entirely new to the Wallace and Gromit series- love. One interesting element in the interaction between Wallace and Wendolene is Hitchcock’s humor motif which is used to intensify suspense. Hitchcock said “for me, 'suspense' doesn't have any value if it's not balanced by humor.” Wallace and Gromit is known for its humor, and often this humor relates to a thriller-esque sequence. In the interaction between Wallace and Wendolene Park maintains the element of humor, but replaces the suspense with emotion. Their first interaction is a heartfelt scene where each character is vulnerable and awkward. This nervous romantic tension is juxtaposed by Preston, Wendolene’s dog, grabbing Gromit, hanging by a bungee cord, by the neck then launching him into the air. (Fig. 07)
Fig. 07 A Close Shave (1995)
This setup of an emotional scene in the foreground with humor happening in the background happens again after Wendolene discovers what Preston is getting at and goes over to Wallace’s house to tell him to stay away from her. In this later scene a herd of sheep sits on the staircase behind Wallace passively engaged in the confrontation. (Fig. 08) Park, in the DVD commentary says “I always have this idea that comedy and the humor opens up the door to the sadness and if you’re made to laugh then you’re instantly connected to being effected emotionally where as if you just went from sadness alone to the comedy it wouldn't get you as much.”
Fig.08 A Close Shave (1995)
As the story progresses, the ever present wool MacGuffin lands Gromit in jail after being framed by Preston for the sheep rustling. Once liberated by Shaun the Sheep and the rest of the herd, Wallace and Gromit escape to a nearby field where, already known by the audience, they discover that Wendolene and Preston are the real rustlers. The film then breaks into a large scale chase scene. As with chase scenes from Hitchcock films, Park balances the intensity of the action with moments of comic relief, such as the scene in which the sheep are riding a motorcycle in a pyramid formation and are forced to conform to the shape of a tunnel to fit through. (Fig. 09) Hitchcock uses comic relief during his own chase sequences claiming “I do inject a little comic relief into a chase.”
Fig. 09 A Close Shave (1995)
It is only at the end of the film once Preston has returned to the factory after the big chase that the truth is exposed and it is learned that Preston is, in fact, a cyber-dog who is killing the sheep to manufacture dog food, thus causing a shortage in wool. (Fig. 10) Ultimately, the wool is simply a by-product to the once friendly companion built to help and protect Wendolene that has turned into an evil entrepreneur.
Fig. 10 A Close Shave (1995)
The Sinister Staircase
Staircases are a common motif found throughout several genres including German Expressionism, and plays different roles depending on the narrative. Hitchcock’s use of stairs is no different. His staircases are considered to be his most recognizable motif and are used in a variety of ways. For the sake of this paper, the staircase has been narrowed to the “sinister” stairs as described by Michael Walker in his book Hitchcock’s Motifs. There is a scene in A Matter of Loaf and Death that Park describes as his Psycho stairs interpretation.
Fig. 11 Scene comparisons between Psycho(1960) [left] and A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008) [right]
To break this scene down analytically, the understanding of the Bate’s mansion staircases must first be established. According to Walker, the sinister staircase in the Bate’s home leads up to the Mother’s bedroom and is associated with murder. The descending staircase followed by Lila to the wine cellar leads to Norman’s dark secret. Once revealed, Norman’s secret puts Lila in “mortal danger.” Although the two scenes are not shot for shot identical, the similarities are plentiful with an homage to an iconic Hitchcock moment down to the three hanging photographs on the staircase wall. (Fig. 11) In A Matter of Loaf and Death Gromit is asked by Wallace to return Piella Bakewell’s purse which, in this scene, should be considered as a MacGuffin similar to Psycho’s MacGuffin- the envelope with $40,000 dollars that Marion conceals in her purse.(Fig. 12) Ultimately, this object is of no consequence to the outcome of the scene, but it provides the reason for Gromit to visit Piella Bakewell’s home, driving the plot forward.
Fig. 12 MacGuffin Psycho(1960) [left] and comparison A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008) [right]
The scene begins with Gromit reluctantly delivering the purse back to Piella. Gromit enters the foyer from a overhead camera angle. Hitchcock uses this angle during staircase scenes to “dramatize a theatrical moment“, particularly in Psycho when Detective Arbogast ascends the staircase before being killed by Norman in disguise. As Gromit approaches the room where Piella appears to be, a sudden flash of light reveals shadowed figures in a room at the top of the staircase. He then slowly and cautiously ascend the staircase towards the sinister shadows, uncertain what lies above the crest of the top stair. Park has combined the two staircases from Psycho into a single staircase that Gromit takes to enter Piella’s bedroom [mother] to discover twelve numbered mannequins with baker’s outfits on them [dark secret]. At this moment he has not unearthed the meaning of these mannequins but as Lila approaches mother’s dresser in Psycho, so does Gromit. This is another moment where Park uses iconography straight from the Psycho scene. The dressers of Piella and Mother both have mirrors attached, which capture three images of each character. (Fig. 13) Lila believes she sees a person behind her as she jumps back startled, only to learn it is her reflection. Similarly, after Gromit discovers the twelve mannequins represent the twelve bakers murdered and Wallace is to be the thirtieth, he jumps back in shock and knocks over the mannequins seen behind him reflected in the mirrors.
Fig. 13 Use of mirrors in Psycho (1960) [left] and A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008) [right]
After discovering Wallace is to complete Piella’s baker’s dozen, Gromit has revealed the dark secret and is now in mortal danger. Although vocally silent, Gromit knocks over all the mannequins calling the attention of Piella, similar to Lila’s scream upon seeing Mother Bate’s mummified corpse [dark secret] and drawing the attention of Norman. In both scenes this is the big reveal of who the killer is. The staircase scene from A Matter of Loaf and Death also introduces a deeper psychological perspective to our blonde antagonist. As with many Hitchcock films the houses provide insight and information related to the characters who reside within. The Bate’s house in Psycho can be interpreted as how Mrs Bates’s personality, through Norman’s unstable perspective, is saturated within the house’s aesthetic which indicates that “The Victorian décor, crammed with invention, intensifies the atmosphere….” The home of Piella also provides visual cues to her psychological state. There is a stark contrast in the outward appearance of Piella and her dwelling. A once skinny and beautiful commercial starlet for Bak-O-Lite, she is now controlled by the delusion of her former self which continues to inflate over the years, as does her physique. Piella appears to be charming and grounded, and maintains the illusion of the slightly plumper Bake-O-Lite girl with her dolled up outfits and attention to her hair and makeup. However when Gromit provides this glimpse into her home there are clues to her slow psychological breakdown. Her house is towering and ominous from the exterior, and once inside the Victorian style is gloomy with dark colors, layers of chipped paint over the walls, and a dark floral rugs cover the floors. It is only when Gromit reaches the second floor that we see her bedroom, as with Mother’s room in Psycho, where the room is preserved in her Bake-O-Lite mentality. Its bright pink décor continues the illusion of sanity.
Written Text Narratives
Headlines and written text are another Hitchcock motif used to provide information to the viewers. Park has adapted this technique as a way of providing information to the viewers quickly with no dialogue multiple times throughout a movie. As with Hitchcock, the Wallace and Gromit films use street and shop signs to provide information on location and setting.
Fig. 14 Dial M for Murder (1954) comparison The Wrong Trousers (1993)
Although Park does not use the obvious captions that Hitchcock used at the beginning of Psycho for example, one major related technique is the close up shots of newspapers. (Fig. 14) The use of newspapers by Hitchcock in movies such as The Lodger, a Story of the London Fog, Dial M for Murder, and Easy Virtue pull the viewers into the plot line quickly. This technique has been used in every Wallace and Gromit film since their inception. (Fig. 15) Similar to Hitchcock, Park usually opens the movie with these headlines as in A Grand Day Out. They can also be found within the first few scenes after the title to introduce the plot, as seen in A Matter of Loaf and Death, A Close Shave, The Wrong Trousers, or in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit where a police officer strolls the nighttime streets past the produce store where a sign in the window reads ‘Giant Vegetable Competition’ provides the premise.
Fig. 15 In order. A Grand Day Out (1989), A Grand Day Out (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995), The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), and A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008)
A Close Shave would be the film that utilizes this technique most frequently. In Hitchcock’s Easy Virtue he uses a newspaper to introduce a court case, in A Close Shave Park uses newspaper headlines and continually follows the Wool Shortage news story and resulting court case of Gromit. This technique allows the headline to drive the story. Once Gromit has been convicted there is a sequence of shots showing daily newspaper headlines as Wallace just says “Oh Gromit!” over and over. There is no need for dialogue beyond this one line, the story of Gromit’s conviction and sentencing is told visually through the newspaper’s text. (Fig. 16)
Fig. 16 A Close Shave (1995)
This series of shots is similar to a scene out of Hitchcock’s 1936 film Secret Agent. In the book Hitchcock on Hitchcock he describes the first sequence as "A little dialogue, a shot of newspaper headlines…and the audience knows exactly what has happened…" For Park the use of this story telling device has branched out beyond a simple plot driver. Park uses the newspapers as an opportunity to place hidden messages of actual British news as well as Easter eggs for fans such as in The Wrong Trousers where one of the newspaper headline reads ‘Moon Cheese Shares Sore!’ in reference to A Grand Day Out.
Montage Theory, the Hand Motif, and Point-of-View Editing
The use of montage and point of view editing were crucial tools used by Hitchcock to build tension in his films. Hitchcock said that montage theory should be used as a way of "transferring the menace from the screen into the mind of the audience." In The Wrong Trousers Park uses montage editing to dramatize and elongate the scene where Wallace presents his gift to Gromit. The shot cuts back and forth between the techno-trousers entering the room, and Gromit’s fear stricken reaction. (Fig. 17) He draws out the suspense and timing of the scene by using montage.
Fig. 17 The Wrong Trousers (1993)
Park also adapts the close-up shot motif of hands used by Hitchcock. (Fig. 18) Hitchcock’s hands have deep psychological implications in regards to gender, strength, and sexuality and also possess great personal expression. It is this expressive nature that Park uses in his own interpretation of close-ups hand shots that he incorporates into the use of point-of-view editing and first person camera angles.
Fig. 18 In order. A Grand Day Out (1989), A Close Shave (1995), The Wrong Trousers(1993), The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008), Matter of Loaf and Death (2008)
Similar to Hitchcock, the Wallace and Gromit films often exploit the point of view editing technique to both mislead the viewers to incorrect conclusions, and also to utilize Hitchcock’s approach to filming from the character’s perspective to involve the audience into the story.
Fig. 19 The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
An example of this would be in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, point-of-view editing is used to mislead the audience into thinking that Hutch is turning into the Were-Rabbit. Park shows a shot with a group of frightened rabbits staring at the cage which holds Hutch, the mind altered Wallace-Rabbit. (Fig. 19) The scene leads the viewers to think that he is to blame until Gromit discovered that it is Wallace who in fact becomes the Were-Rabbit in the moonlight as Hutch slowly becomes Wallace. (Fig. 20)
Fig. 20 The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
The Wallace and Gromit films are full of Hitchcockian techniques in both narrative method and visual cues. Through closer analysis it is revealed that these interpretations of Hitchcock’s films into plasticine animation have greater depth than simple stylistic treatment. Discussed were some of the most prominent comparisons between Hitchcock’s film making techniques and the Wallace and Gromit films. There are however more parallels that could be drawn and studied. Smaller correlations are scattered throughout the Wallace and Gromit films, some holding more importance and acting as potential metaphors, others are purely aesthetic. The Wallace and Gromit films can be considered classically Hitchcockian, yet iconic Park. It is the culmination of all of Park’s influences and his interpretation of them that gave birth to the beautifully realized and charming world of Wallace and Gromit.
 "The Amazing World of Wallace and Gromit” Wallace and Gromit A Grand Day Out, Directed by Nick Park (1989; Santa Monica, CA: Lionsgate, 2009), DVD.
 Giovanni Fazio. "'Wallace & Gromit in 'A Matter of Loaf and Death''/'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' Wallace & Gromit whip Harry Potter" Japan Times, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/ff20090710a3.html (accessed November 4, 2011).
 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is noted for inspiration and relevance in The Wrong Trousers for the hydraulic sound of the mechanical pants and again in A Close Shave during the transformation of Gromit’s sidecar to a fighter plane. (DVD commentary)
 In The Curse of the Were-Rabbit Wallace, in love with Lady Campanula Tottington, grabs her, pounds his chest, and climbs to the roof tops with her in arm. Later Wallace, as the Were-Rabbit, stands at the top of Lady Tottington’s mansion as Gromit circles him in his plane. Wallace then falls to his “death”.
 In the film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit Wallace says the phrase “What’s up dog?” as he slowly eats his carrot, an obvious play off Bugs Bunny’s iconic line “What’s up Doc?” pointed out by Park in the DVD commentary.
 Sidney Gottlieb, and Christopher Brookhouse. Framing Hitchcock: Selected Essays From The Hitchcock Annual. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002.) 38
 Michael Walker. Hitchcock's Motifs. (Amsterdam University Press, 2005.) eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 5, 2011) 394
 Although the films ultimate end in different directions some themes are similar. Both Penguin and the Lodger respond to a “room to let” and show up carrying a mysterious bag. The Lodger takes it upon himself to re-decorate and flip the wall photos over before having them removed, Penguin removes and replaces all Gromit’s decorations as well. The Lodger charms the daughter in the house causing the detective to investigate. Penguin charms Wallace and Gromit then begins to investigate Penguin after feeling replaced.
 Gottlieb, 38
 Paul Duncan. Alfred Hitchcock. (Summersdale Publishers Ltd, 2004.) eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 11, 2011). 26
 Walker, 299
 "Nick Park Audio Commentary" Wallace and Gromit A Close Shave, Directed by Nick Park (1995; Santa Monica, CA: Lionsgate, 2009), DVD.
 Steve Biodrowski “Giving Wallace and Gromit ‘A Close Shave’”, Cinefantastique Online, http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/2008/09/giving-wallace-and-gromit-a-close-shave/ (accessed November 06, 2011)
 Alfred Hitchcock, and Sidney Gottlieb. 1995. Hitchcock on Hitchcock : Selected Writings and Interviews. (University of California Press, 1995.) eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 12, 2011). 144
 "Nick Park Audio Commentary" Wallace and Gromit A Close Shave, DVD
 Hitchcock, 130
 Walker, 350
 "Audio Commentary with Nick Park (Director) and David McCormick(Editor)" Wallace and Gromit A Matter Of Loaf And Death, Directed by Nick Park (2008; Santa Monica, CA: Lionsgate, 2009), DVD.
 Walker, 364
 Paul Duncan. Alfred Hitchcock. (Summersdale Publishers Ltd, 2004.) eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 11, 2011). 136
 Walker, 364
 Ibid., 309
 62 West Wallaby Street “Piella Bakewell”, 62 West Wallaby Street, http://www.62westwallabystreet.co.uk/content/view/314/33 (accessed November 04, 2011)
 Walker, 309
 Jeff Bays. "Creating a Hitchcockian Opening", Borgus, http://www.borgus.com/hitch/openings.htm (accessed November 04, 2011)
 Hitchcock, 264
 Jeff Bays. "How to turn your boring movie into a Hitchcock thriller...", Borgus, http://borgus.com/hitch/hitch2011.htm (accessed November 04, 2011)
 Gottlieb, 159 -160
 Jeff Bays. "How to turn your boring movie into a Hitchcock thriller...", Borgus, http://borgus.com/hitch/hitch2011.htm (accessed November 04, 2011)