I was brought up on cartoon characters whose whole lives revolved round violence. Tom was always after Jerry, intending to kill and eat him. Jerry evaded him with ingenuity, often managing to do him serious injury into the bargain. Cartoon films were full of “Splatts!” and the shape of an unfortunate animal in a wrecked door, when said animal had been extruded through it at high speed.
But Wallace and Gromit are different. True, their adventures get them into scrapes, but their stance is basically nonviolent. Even when they are hired to catch the rabbits who have infested Lady Tottington’s lawn they seek a humane way to dispose of them, and that story ends with the converted peeress opening a bunny sanctuary in the same lawn. The villains in that and the other stories are never eliminated by pseudo-heroic acts of violence: they meet their come-uppance through their own over-reaching pride.
There is more. We neo-anabaptists rejoice in doing things differently and unexpectedly. Wallace and Gromit are nothing if not ingenious, from the early morning automatic breakfast routine to the outlandish (and often malfunctioning) machines that Wallace invents. (No, they are not infallible – but that isn’t an anabaptist doctrine either.)
The repeated routine shots of breakfast time in the Wallace household remind us that they inhabit a story, as we believe we all do – as anabaptists we lay especial value on our narrative, believing it has something to teach us about ourselves and our creator. (By the way, I am told Nick Park is a Christian. Could we tell that from his stories?) They are also a community – admittedly a small one – with a strong bond of loyalty and affection between them. Gromit would surely not put up with Wallace for long, unless he had a deep commitment to him – perhaps almost a spiritual commitment? Their community is open to newcomers, however annoying or even dangerous: Wallace welcomes in the evil Penguin, and it takes Gromit’s gift of discernment to see through him. And Shaun the Sheep is given a home, although he appears to misunderstand and even abuse the sacrament of Wensleydale cheese by hiding in the cheese dish. But Wendolen cannot join Wallace, however smitten he is with her (and however willing he is to forgive her dangerous error with Preston the mechanical dog) – because she cannot bring herself to like cheese at all.
Gromit has the wisdom and discernment that the childlike Wallace lacks. He also has a tendency to fly around like a World War I fighter pilot, but doesn’t have the killer instinct of his opponents.
The routine of raising the ladders to clean windows in “A Close Shave” reminds me of the barn-raising that is emblematic of the Amish sense of mutual help in community. The two heroes have their routines off to a fine art, with a combination of close team-work (requiring mutual trust and respect) and some gadgets that appear normal to them but outlandish to everyone else. And when they get into trouble, through their innocence and the ill will of others, they always get rescued by an unseen hand that looks after them.
Wallace and Gromit – symbolic cartoon Anabaptists for our time??