In their previous adventures, everyone's favorite befuddled British cheeseophile and his faithful canine sidekick have wrangled sheep, worn techno-trousers, and even made a trip to the moon for a lovely spot of tea. After the success of the pair's first feature film, 'The Curse of the Were-Rabbit', creator Nick Park has returned Wallace & Gromit to their short film origins for his latest clay-animated production, 'A Matter of Loaf and Death'.
As you might glean from the pun in the movie's title, our entrepreneurial duo's newest business venture has them rolling in dough, so to speak. Their Top Bun Bakery is a rousing success, thanks once again to Gromit's amazing engineering expertise. His automated bread-making factory is a Rube Goldberg-style mechanical marvel, as efficient as it is convoluted. Wallace, meanwhile, has found a new love interest named Piella Bakewell, former spokesmodel for a famous bread company. Her poodle Fluffles may have even caught Gromit's eye.
Things seem to be going swimmingly, until news breaks of a string of murders. Someone has been bumping off all the bakers in town. Wallace is, as always, oblivious to the danger. But the ever-vigilant Gromit suspects Piella's motives, especially after he finds a scrapbook filled with photos of her and the victims. Could the Bake-o-Lite Girl be less innocent than she seems? Will Gromit be able to solve this who-donut mystery in time to save his master?
Like all the Wallace & Gromit films, 'A Matter of Loaf and Death' is loaded with inventive sight gags, silly puns, and cinematic homages. This one's references span from Hitchcock to 'Aliens', with plenty of secondary jokes filling in the margins. Look closely, and you'll find the titles to Gromit's book and record collections a riot. The animation is wonderfully creative and complex, and the characters are as endearing as ever.
The story here is perhaps not the pair's best or funniest. (That title still goes to 'The Wrong Trousers'.) Nevertheless, 'Loaf and Death' is another clever and enjoyable half-hour spent in the company of two delightful friends.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Wallace & Gromit in: A Matter of Loaf and Death' has been released on Blu-ray in the UK by 2 Entertain. Like many UK Blu-ray releases, the disc is packaged in an extra-thick keepcase. Although not region-locked, the feature is encoded at 1080i50 resolution, and the bonus features are mostly standard-def PAL. As a result, the disc will only function in hardware compatible with a 50 Hz frame rate. This will rule out many American Blu-ray players, including the PS3.
As explained in the disc's supplements, 'A Matter of Loaf and Death' was photographed using digital still cameras. The animation frame rate isn't specified, but since this was intended as a European television production (unlike some of the other Wallace & Gromit films, which were made for theatrical release), it's possible that a 25 fps rate may have been used. If that's the case, it might explain why the Blu-ray has been encoded at 1080i50 resolution, rather than the expected 1080p24. Visibly and audibly, the disc doesn't appear to suffer the usual side effects of 4% PAL speedup.
Regardless of its interlaced encoding and frame rate, the AVC MPEG-4 transfer looks completely flawless to the eye. The picture is astoundingly sharp and detailed. Fingerprints in the clay are perfectly resolved. The tiniest text (such as newspaper print and the like) is fully legible in every shot. Colors are bold and vibrant. The picture is bright and vivid, and has a terrific sense of three-dimensional depth. No artifacts of any kind make themselves known. There's absolutely nothing to nitpick here. Despite its technical specs, this Blu-ray image looks as perfect as they come.
The disc defaults to a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but also offers a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that is, like the video, reference quality all the way. The mix is deep, resonant, and expansive. Music routinely bleeds to the rears and wraps around the listening position. Dialogue and sound effects are crisp and clear. Thunderous bass and drums will get your subwoofer rocking. The broad soundstage is reproduced with outstanding fidelity.
As mentioned above, if there's been any speedup applied as a result of the 50 Hz frame rate, it isn't immediately noticeable without something to compare against. Pitch sounds fine. Animated films often have the best sound design, and this is another stunning audio show-off demo.
The Blu-ray shares its bonus features with the comparable DVD edition also released in the UK.
With news that a domestic Blu-ray release of all the Wallace & Gromit short films has been scheduled for later this year, this import copy of 'A Matter of Loaf and Death' seems a little unnecessary. Although the movie is a lot of fun and has terrific A/V quality, the feature is barely half an hour long and has few supplements. Even at a reasonable MSRP that equates to about $15 USD, after factoring in international shipping, the Blu-ray is an extravagant purchase. 50 Hz compatibility issues don't help its appeal. Most fans in the U.S. will be better served waiting for the official American release.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.