Animator Nick Park’s fifth Wallace and Gromit film, A Matter Of Loaf And Death (named for the Powell & Pressburger 1946 fantasy romance A Matter Of Life And Death, the first of many such baking-related puns) became the most-watched television programme in the UK in 2008, attracting a Christmas day average audience of 14.4 million viewers. It saw 62 West Wallaby Street, Wigan, transformed into a granary, making Wallace the target of a “cereal killer” intent on ridding the world of bakers. Gromit, as ever, came to the rescue.
We’ve scoured the half-hour short to unpack some of Aardman’s characteristic in-jokes and film references…
1. The name and look of Baker Bob, who meets an unfortunate end at the hands of the Cereal Killer in the film’s pre-credits sequence, is inspired by Doctor Who writer Bob Baker, with whom Nick Park has co-written every Wallace & Gromit film except for A Grand Day Out.
2. Gromit washes up using one of several established brand spoofs in Wallace & Gromit’s world: Furry Liquid.
3. More brand name puns come in the form of high street retailer Tank-Top Man (stocking only Wallace’s favourite knitwear item), airline Cheesy Jet, the duo’s traditional ‘Smug’ fridge, and old favourite ‘Duck’, not Swan matches.
4. Top Bun, the name of the duo’s bakery pays an obvious homage to Tony Scott’s 1986 aviation action flick, Top Gun.
5.Gromit’s political activism and love of puns is once more established with the bakery van’s bumper sticker: Flour to the People!
6. Baking, flour and bread puns of course, abound in the film. Wallace’s newspaper is The Daily Grind. The pair drives past Pat O’Cakes Patisserie (slogan: We’ll bake you a cake as fast as we can), Piella’s address is 12A Pastry Rise, and Wallace’s bedroom is decorated in baking-related posters, including an Uncle Sam “I want you” pastiche poster.
7. The motorbike and sidecar from A Close Shave can be spotted in the background of the basement bakery, but that isn’t the real prop, as it wasn’t available to use. Instead, it’s a limited-edition model made as merchandise for the film.
8. Continuity error-spotters might be interested to note that in the delivery scene, Wallace’s baking apron is off, on, off, then on again in the course of the same conversation.
9. Although not native to Wallace & Gromit’s home town of Wigan, Park and co. used the American-style mailboxes for the delivery joke because they were the same shape as a loaf of bread.
10. The set for the action sequence of Piella losing control on her bicycle was called Hovis Hill (after Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, which featured in a famous Hovis TV ad) but official use of the name in the film was not allowed.
11. Look closely outside the zoo and you’ll spot a poster advertising the disappearance of Feathers McGraw, the penguin from The Wrong Trousers, as well as a ladder and a rope made from bedsheets, indicating Feathers’ preferred method of escape. At the end of the film, as Piella descends into the zoo’s crocodile enclosure (sponsored by “Super Snaps”, of course), some penguins can be spotted but none are disguised as chickens…
12. Another nod to The Wrong Trousers’ criminal penguin appears when Wallace and Piella are on their romantic barge cruise. Graffiti reading “Feathers waz ere” can be seen on the canal brickwork.
13. In the dustbin next to the canal appears to be a stuffed toy from 2005 feature film, The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.
14. Wallace & Piella engage in a spot of romantic dough-shaping in a nod to the much-spoofed pottery wheel scene in 1990’s Ghost (complete with The Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody).
15. As always, Gromit’s bedroom is packed with treats for the attention-paying viewer. First of all are two books stacked on his dresser: classics The Dogfather and Where Beagles Dare, joined by Bite Club and Pup Fiction on his shelves. Then there are the three Shaun The Sheep ornaments decorating his wall flying duck-style, and a poster for Citizen Canine.
But the crowning piece is a model of the rocket in which Wallace and Gromit travelled to the moon in A Grand Day Out.
16. Among Gromit’s disposed-of belongings is a Bagpuss doll, a tribute to Small Films animators Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, whose series Clangers, Noggin The Nog, Ivor The Engine and more were a major influence on the young Nick Park. Instead of The Eagle magazine, of course Gromit reads The Beagle (this edition of which features a cover star bearing a remarkable likeness to our hero).
17. Some of Gromit’s LP collection includes Puppy Love by Doggy Osmond and hits by McFlea. More records shown later on in the final van scene (Wallace the inventor has a vinyl player with the initials M.U.T.T on its buttons as his car stereo) include The Beagles and The Hound Of Music by WUF Records.
18. Piella’s door knocker is a traditional Aardman pig, as seen in Shaun The Sheep’s farmyard.
19. As Gromit approaches Piella’s Gothic house and ventures up her staircase the film references shots from Hitchcock’s Psycho.
20. Piella’s designer shoes are of course by Poochi.
21. Originally, each baker in Piella’s kill book had his own name, Peter Bread and so on, but the puns were judged too distracting in this scene, so were taken out.
22. Fluffles’ cardbox-box bed is made from a Meatabix box, just like the one Gromit hid inside while following Feathers in The Wrong Trousers.
23. Properly nerdy continuity error here: when Fluffles looks underneath Piella’s bed, the floorboards run vertically towards the headboard, but on the overhead shot, they’re running parallel to it.
24. The book Gromit reads to create his metal detector? That would be “Electronic Surveillance for Dogs by B.A. Lert”. He’s evidently moved on from A Grand Day Out‘s “Electronics for Dogs”.
25. In this wee continuity error in the scene where Piella fakes him biting her, Gromit momentarily doesn’t have a tail.
26. Carved into a tree trunk outside Piella’s house are the initials F + G inside a heart, a love token for poor, smitten Fluffles to Gromit.
27. A bit more magical realism occurs when Wallace is heartbroken over Piella breaking off the engagement: in his misery, it’s not just the flowers in the vase that droop, but even the petals on the flowers in his living room painting start to fall off.
28. The four gargoyles, one in each corner of the clock tower, are modelled after members of the team. The producer and floor manager are represented there in monk form.
29. Gromit attempting to flee Piella’s attack under the vents is a deliberate nod to a similar pursuit in 1986’s Aliens. As is the silhouette shot of Fluffles in the fork-lift truck.
30. There’s always room to squeeze in one more gag: read the words on the spanner Piella is wielding when she delivers her monologue about gaining weight and you’ll see an ironic “Super-Slim”.
31. The match flame used to light the bomb fuse was created using digital effects. The one used to light the fuse sending the rocket to the moon in A Grand Day Out was made using the much more low-key effect of animated silver paper.
32. Wallace attempting to dispose of the bomb but being thwarted by the appearance of a group of nuns and a pack of small children refers to a now infamously comic scene towards the end of 1966’s Batman: The Movie.
33. There was some controversy about showing Wallace’s naked buttocks from the American contingent according to Nick Park. The US studio requested that a pair of digital pants be added. The note, needless to say, wasn’t acted upon.