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8 Cracking Facts About Wallace & Gromit (and an exhibit you have to check out!)

Wallace and Gromit are national heroes in the U.K. The cheery, if absent-minded inventor/baker/pest control expert and his faithful Dostoyevsky-reading canine companion have starred in some of the most fun and inventive adventures in stop-motion ever committed to film. And now, British fans of the Plasticine pair will get the chance to wander around a life-size version of their 62 West Wallaby Street home, at the London Science Museum's latest exhibition, Wallace & Gromit present A World of Cracking Ideas.

Drawing its inspiration from Wallace's amusing inventions, the exhibit is designed to introduce kids (and kid-like adults) to the creative process around inventions and ideas. It's the result of a partnership between Aardman Animation, the studios behind Wallace and Gromit, and Britain's Intellectual Property Office, so in addition such Wallace-inspired inventions as the karaoke shower, it also includes somewhat heady information on intellectual property rights. The exhibit opens on March 28 and runs through November 1 (the link contains one of the most time-consuming games to cross my desktop since TextTwist).

In the spirit of inspiration, we decided to compile a list of a few facts about Britain's favorite stop-motion adventurers. Here a few things you might not know about Wallace and Gromit:

1. Wallace and Gromit Save Dairy

WallaceGromit2.jpgWallace's influence over Britain is significant "“ at least when it comes to cheese. As a tastemaker, his preferences have been credited with saving several kinds of cheese of extinction. The makers of Wallace's particular favorite, Wensleydale cheese, were struggling throughout the 1990s, but when Wallace and Gromit's popularity skyrocketed, so did sales of the cheese. Wensleydale now offers a cheese in a Wallace and Gromit packaging, further cementing the relationship between the characters and the cheese. The Daily Mail reports that when Curse of the Were-Rabbit featured Stinking Bishop cheese, sales of the famously smelly cheese rose 500 percent.

2. The Truth about Cats and Dogs

Nick Park has said that neither character was exactly based on anyone he knew, although the ever-cheerful Wallace had often been compared to his father and the much put-upon Gromit compared to Park himself. Park has also said that Wallace and Gromit's adventures are a bit of a pastiche, inspired by other films and genres, including Hitchcock and Laurel and Hardy films, as well as a real-life Lancashire, Britain 1950s, "˜60s, and "˜70s aesthetic. And one more thing: Gromit was originally going to be a cat.

3. Honing his skills with a Sledgehammer

Picture 34.pngOne thing few people know is that when Park was a newcomer to Aardman Animation, he worked on Peter Gabriel's memorable "Sledgehammer" video.

4. They're Animated like Kong

All of the Wallace and Gromit movies use the same technique that brought King Kong to life in the 1933 film "“ stop-motion models made of Plasticine. Animators at Aardman Animations, however, use a special blend of the modeling clay nicknamed "Aard-mix" that's slightly more resilient. Liquid and fur are the hardest to animate, say animators at Aardman.

5. The Queen Likes It!

nick park working.jpgThe Queen and Prince Charles are fans of Wallace and Gromit, awarding creator Nick Park a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1997 for his contributions to the film industry. At a dinner celebrating the nomination, the Queen reportedly asked to be sat next to Park. And although Park is very honored by the CBE, he may be more proud of his gold Blue Peter badge, an award given out by the long-running British children's show and an honor he actually shares with Queen Elizabeth II and JK Rowling.

6. Tail Wagging Takes a Very Long Time

Each character moves 12 times a second to achieve that life-like animation. Animator Merlin Crossingham, talking to the Daily Mail, explained, "If Gromit is wagging his tail enthusiastically for 30 seconds, that's 360 movements. That's why it can take us days to do a four-second shot."

7.Oscar and Gromit

creature.jpgWallace and Gromit were born in the "˜80s, conceived to star in Nick Park's animated short, A Grand Day Out. Park started the film while in school at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, though it took nearly seven years to complete. When it was finally released in 1989, it won a Bafta (a British Oscar). In 1990, the film was also nominated for an Oscar, although the award would go to another of Park's films, Creature Comforts. Wallace and Gromit's next two adventures, The Wrong Trousers in 1993 and A Close Shave in 1995, both won Oscars.

8. Trouble at DreamWorks

Working with Plasticine models takes an incredibly long time to film "“ A Matter of Loaf and Death, a half-hour special featuring Wallace and Gromit in a bakery-based murder mystery that aired this past Christmas Day, took 18 months to complete. The special was also Nick Park's first production since his five-film deal with DreamWorks broke down last year after only three films. Park said later that "culture clash" contributed to the collapse of the relationship: DreamWorks couldn't help but try to Americanize the very British Wallace and Gromit, tarnishing some of the duo's nostalgic charm.

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Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Woody Image: iStock. Background: IFC Midnight
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9 The Shining References Buried in Pixar Films
Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Woody Image: iStock. Background: IFC Midnight
Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Woody Image: iStock. Background: IFC Midnight

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining: Not the most kid-friendly movie! But, as circumstance would have it, it’s a favorite film of Pixar regular Lee Unkrich, who has directed or co-directed five Pixar features—including Toy Story 2 and 3; Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo; and Coco—in addition to doing editing work on several others. As such, it’s no surprise (or maybe it is) that several references to The Shining, from the obvious to the obscure, have snuck into Pixar’s lineup over the years. Here are nine of them.

1. SID'S DISTINCTIVE CARPET // TOY STORY (1995)

One of the most iconic images from Stanley Kubrick’s filmography is of Danny (Danny Lloyd) cycling through the halls of The Shining’s Overlook Hotel. That same iconic carpet can be found in Toy Story, where it adorns the home of the toy-torturer Sid. Unkrich, who was one of the editors on the film, credits that particular Easter Egg to production designer Ralph Eggleston.

2. THE NUMBER 237 // TOY STORY 3 (2010)

The number 237 makes an appearance in 'Toy Story 3' (2010)
Pixar

Unkrich worked several references to the number 237—the room in the Overlook Hotel where some particularly trippy things go down for Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson)—into Toy Story 3, which he directed. The license plate on a garbage truck in one scene reads RM237; Woody instant messages a toy whose code name is Velocistar237; and the model number of a security camera in Sunnyside Daycare is Overlook R237.

3. THE SUNNYSIDE INTERCOM // TOY STORY 3 (2010)

Speaking of Sunnyside Daycare’s security system: It features an intercom that’s an exact (albeit animated) duplicate of the one used by Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) in The Shining. Several feet away from the intercom is a tissue box, the pattern of which resembles that aforementioned carpet pattern in the Overlook Hotel.

4. THE "KALINGA" TECHNIQUE // FINDING NEMO (2003) & TOY STORY 3 (2010)

For both Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo, Unkrich asked his composers—Randy Newman and Thomas Newman, respectively—to utilize the “kalinga” technique at particular moments where the audience was meant to feel unsettled. Favored by Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, whose music was featured in The Shining, the “kalinga,” per Unkrich, “is when the violin players tap their bows against the strings rather than strumming. It's almost a plucky sound. If everybody does that throughout the orchestra you get a crazy, almost insecty sound, it's so unsettling.”

5. “HEEEEERE’S JOHNNY!” // FINDING NEMO (2003)

This one’s easy: In Finding Nemo, Bruce the shark echoes Jack Nicholson’s most famous line from The Shining when he snarls “Heeeere’s Brucey!”

6. JACK TORRANCE’S AXE // COCO (2017)

    Early in Coco, there’s a scene where Dante the dog abruptly wakes up from a nap. In the background, we see a normal-looking axe stuck into a tree trunk. An axe could just be an axe ... were Unkrich not sitting in the director's chair. Earlier this year, in an interview with Cinema Blend, he confirmed that the axe is in fact modeled after “one of the axes from The Shining.”

    7. REDRUM // COCO (2017)

    There are two 'The Shining' references in this one scene from 'Coco' (2017)
    Disney/Pixar

      In that same shot, right behind the axe, is a red metal storage drum, a reference to REDRUM, Danny Torrance’s favorite phrase and (er, spoilers for The Shining?) “murder” spelled backwards.

      8. THE GRADY TWINS // COCO (2017)

        As Coco’s Miguel runs through Frida Kahlo’s underworld art studio, he passes a painting of two girls who, per Unkrich, represent a “Día de los Muertos-inspired version of the twin girls from The Shining.”

        9. APOLLO 11 // TOY STORY (1995)

          Stick with us for a moment on this one, as it's not as straightforward as the other ones: Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear was named after Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was the second man to set foot on the moon. Apollo 11 looms large as part of the mythology of The Shining, as there are famously some conspiracy theorists who believe that Kubrick faked the moon landing and used The Shining as a quasi-confession. (At one point Danny Torrance wears an Apollo 11 sweater, which Lee Unkrich now owns.) This is very likely a coincidence, not an outright nod to The Shining, but given the level of The Shining appreciation in the halls of Pixar, it’s not a stretch to believe that someone at least got a chuckle out of it.

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          Take a Look at What Studio Ghibli's Theme Park Will Look Like When It Opens in 2022
          A recreation of the house in My Neighbor Totoro built for the 2005 World's Fair.
          A recreation of the house in My Neighbor Totoro built for the 2005 World's Fair.
          anthodomi, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

          Miyazaki mega-fans may want to start planning their next trip to Japan. The much-anticipated Studio Ghibli theme park is now set to open in 2022, The Japan Times reports. The animated film studio just released several new images that show what the park (originally projected to open in 2020) will look like.

          Ghibli Park will be built on the site of the 2005 World's Fair in Nagakute, a city about 90 miles east of Kyoto in central Japan. The park's creators envision it as a place where the fantastical films of director Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, are brought to life. The mysterious forest in My Neighbor Totoro—one of Miyazaki’s most iconic films—will be reimagined in an area of the park called Dondoko Forest. The park property already features a recreation of the house from that same film, originally built there for the World’s Fair.

          Other famous films by Studio Ghibli will be represented in the park as well. There will be a Princess Mononoke Village and antique shops modeled after the one in Whisper of the Heart. The main gate to the park will be built in a 19th-century style reminiscent of Howl’s Moving Castle.

          Witch Valley will feature attractions inspired by Howl’s Moving Castle and Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the Big Ghibli Warehouse will contain exhibition areas, a theater, and play spaces. The Japan Times reports that the park will also have giant installations of spiders and “boar-shaped spirits”—recurring motifs in Miyazaki’s movies. And if the concept art is anything to go by, Ghibli Park will be filled with beautiful walking paths surrounded by lush greenery.

          Miyazaki fans have more of the legendary director's work to look forward to in the next few years. He recently came out of retirement to make one last film, which will be released by 2020, Forbes reports. The 77-year-old filmmaker said he wanted to leave something for his grandson to remember him by after he dies.

          [h/t The Japan Times]

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