Reporting on movies that are parts of sets
A Matter of Loaf and Death marks Wallace and Gromit's return to the short format after their feature debut in Curse of the Were-Rabbit, itself produced a decade after A Close Shave. Despite the absence, the duo return to the format in quite a familiar fashion, again taking on another thriller story perhaps a bit more successfully than their last effort, although it's in part an inversion of A Close Shave. And A Matter of Loaf and Death, while surprising with the rather blunt subject matter of murders and abuse in a children's short, manages to pack in a lot of film, both in classic Wallace & Gromit style, but also in a number of parodic references to popular movies.
This time, Wallace (Peter Sallis) and Gromit have taken up the baking business. Unfortunate for them (well, more for Wallace) since someone's been going around murdering local bakers. While on a delivery route one day, the duo encounter Piella Bakewell (Sally Lindsay), Wallace's dream girl in his youth and former spokeperson of "Bake-O-Lite" as well as her dog, Fluffles (Melissa Collier) and manage to save them from falling into a crocodile pit. This leads to a whirlwind romance between Wallace and Piella, again leaving poor Gromit neglected, but Gromit discovers that things don't quite add up with Piella and her frightened and abused Fluffles.
Speaking of fluff, A Matter of Loaf and Death barely avoids being it and in many ways, it seems like a bit of mash-up between the relational story underlying The Wrong Trousers and elements of A Close Shave. Thanks to having an actual story for Wallace and Gromit, however, it does feel a bit more substantial than A Close Shave, even if it's also the same beat as the previous short. The mystery aspect isn't particularly mysterious and while the story suffers a little from contrivances that weaken its credibility, it doesn't play itself seriously enough for it to matter too much. Instead, the framework is mostly used to push the comedy, although sometimes the comedy is at the expense of the large-bodied Piella.
The stop-motion animation of Aardman has stayed quite sharp and continues to give a lot of expression to even the relatively silent players of the dogs. Piella is played a bit over the top and shrill however, both in design and voice, which is a bit of a contrast to the charming antagonists in the duo's past. Also, some of the parodic references, like the ones to Ghost and Aliens are rather noticeable, amusing for the juxtaposition, but perhaps a little on the blunt side, again contrasting too much with the series' normally more reserved charms. At least the direction by Nick Park is still pretty sharp, with lots of great choices made in terms of framing, camera movement, and lighting, giving A Matter of Loaf and Death a really strong visual presentation.
This helps make A Matter of Loaf and Death a pretty enjoyable watch, especially with all the number of physical gags that are included and references to popular movies. I can't help but notice that the short has largely done away with the series' charming subtlety in its humor and story, feeling almost like a feature spoof crammed into a short's runtime. But, for all my complaints, I was pretty entertained with A Matter of Loaf and Death and believe that it's still a decent addition into the duo's filmography. 7/10.