Nick Park attributes the startling success of his plasticine-animated Wallace and Gromit short films, now airing in 70 territories with merchandising agents in 25 territories, to the characters’ endearing cultural authenticity. ‘The work we’ve done comes from our background. It’s rooted in the English working class-eccentric, British and subtle,’ says the three-time Oscar winner. Park’s native Bristol, an industrial factory town, was the inspiration for the comedic characters and is the location of his burgeoning studio, Aardman Animations.
Ironically, it is just this local flavor that Park must fight for as Hollywood studios vie to back his first feature-length film, a non-Wallace and Gromit project entitled Chicken Run. The film is budgeted in the neighborhood of UK£15 million to UK£25 million (US$25 million to US$42 million). He plans to produce the film in Bristol.
‘We find it quite important to not be too much a part of the system here,’ says Park, referring to Los Angeles. ‘We want to keep that drab, dreamy mood [of Northern England] even if we’re making Hollywood pictures.’
And though he has had offers to direct live action, he has turned them down. ‘I’d feel lost if I wasn’t working with plasticine,’ he says. ‘I just feel at home with a lump of clay [and my] ability to manipulate that. You’re in complete control.’
More difficult for Park to control has been the licensing and merchandising explosion surrounding the Wallace and Gromit properties. ‘I’m surprised how well [the merchandise] has done just for three short films,’ says Park. Demand is so high for products that Park is unable to sign off on all merchandise, but he is ‘scrupulous’ about what goes into stores. ‘It matters too much. We don’t want to produce rubbish,’ he says.
This year, Park released a non-Wallace and Gromit animated short titled Creature Comforts, and other non-Wallace and Gromit projects are slated for the future. However, Park doubts he’ll ever stop producing Wallace and Gromit films. ‘Actually, I have a love/hate relationship with them. I don’t think I could ever put [them] down for very long.’