This 2015 documentary celebrates Aardman’s 43rd anniversary – presumably aiming for its 40th but delayed by the claymation process.
A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman is as delightful an hour as you can expect to find on Netflix, watching the studio morph from Bristolian passion project to animation powerhouse and British icon with hits like Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run and Arthur Christmas – via some Lurpak adverts, Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer video and that time Baby Spice wore a Shaun the Sheep rucksack.
Enthusiastically narrated by Julie Walters, the doc contains contributions from every famous animator (including Matt Groening, Terry Gilliam and Brad Bird) and Aardman voice actor (Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman and David Tennant). Hugh Grant describes buying an original Morph figure only to have it squashed by his children, meaning he effectively spent £10,000 on a lump of clay.
We also hear from the Aardman team themselves, officially the most patient people on the planet. It is inspiring to see how Wallace & Gromit creator Nick Park is still over the moon about his clay creations after all these years, when any normal person would never want to see another piece of plasticine as long as they live. He exemplifies the passion it takes to work in the painstaking world of claymation, where a two-minute rocket-building sequence takes 18 months to animate.
The film covers every Aardman production up to 2015, wisely brushing past Flushed Away and focusing on The Wrong Trousers, Gromit’s silent genius and Park’s Hitchcockian direction – composer Julian Nott even describes the Bernard Herrmann influence in his score, while John Lassiter accurately calls Feathers McGraw cinema’s greatest villain.
It would be nice to learn a little more technical information instead of spoilers for all their films, and unfortunate timing means the hour ends with premature excitement for their worst feature Early Man. Overall though, A Grand Night In serves as a gentle reminder of Aardman’s gift for crafting such charm and humanity – without resorting to cheese.