Wallace and Gromit, that lovable dog and human combination from the Wallace & Gromit series are regularly coming up with insane contraptions… it’s kind of their thing. It therefore makes great sense for them to host a television series about other people inventing things. Or, at the very least, it makes sense in the way that a claymated set of characters hosting any television series about real people makes sense. Whether it makes a ton of sense or not though, Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention works.
While Nick Park’s creations do have some funny bits going on over the course of this six episode series, most of the time it focuses on people who have invented absurdly cool (or weird) things. Each episode has a different theme (nature, the sky, home life, safety, transportation, and sensory invention), regular correspondents appear, and Ashley Jensen narrates the reports.
A typical episode opens with Wallace informing the viewer what that episode will be about and then handing it off to Ashley’s disembodied voice to narrate a field piece. Once the field piece is done we go back to Wallace who says something vaguely wacky, weird, or informative and who then pitches to Ashley or, occasionally, another correspondent.
Put another way, there is very little reason really for Wallace to be there. Well, more accurately, there is very little for it to be Wallace, there is very little reason for this to be a Wallace & Gromit thing. It regularly feels as though this is simply a way to extend the franchise than to really do something new and different and fun with the characters.
What the series does do well are two different things. First, some of the wraparounds they handle work well – the ones in which they are telling part of a larger story (an elephant factors heavily in the best of these). Second, the actual stories of incredible inventions are great. The things people invent are truly astounding (and sometimes exceptionally foolish). Could an invisibility cloak really work? Do astronauts have to wear exceptionally thick spacesuits or is there a better way? Did Hedy Lamarr invent a torpedo communication system?
The problem is that the Wallace bits don’t really gel well with the actual stories. Each individual set of moments may work, but they don’t fit together. Beyond that, the show, on at least one occasion, repeats a bit of background information in two different episodes. Of course, the producers have to allow for the fact that not everyone will have seen every episode, but on DVD (and coming so close together) it instead feels as though they simply didn’t do enough research or broaden their set of topics as much as is needed and for a six episode series that is disappointing.
With field reports and animated portions, the video quality does differ somewhat. The Wallace and Gromit bits are exceptionally well animated and detailed. The field pieces are less rich and clear. There is also archival footage included which looks even less good. The show also sports a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It doesn’t sound bad per se, but the rear speakers are used only occasionally. As with the look of the show, depending on where a moment takes place the audio quality varies. Again here, it is the animated portions of the show which have the most fully realized sound design. That is to be expected, and as the show is filled with news reports-type footage and narrated it might actually be a little odd if narration was somehow turned into a Hollywood blockbuster-style sound field.
In terms of bonus features, we’re given a bunch of shorts which detail how to build various contraptions oneself. We have not yet attempted any of these, but they certainly are intriguing and we hope to put our crazy inventor hat on soon.
Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention is one of those things which features two great tastes that don’t always go great together. The Wallace & Gromit portions are funny and the field segments are informative and while we don’t know what the right way to go about putting the two together might be, it doesn’t feel as though the producers quite got it here. It is fun, it is funny, and it is informative, it just falls shy of the greatness we have come to expect from the characters.