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"Wallace and Gromit: The Best of Aardman Animation"
This British animation studio's trademark is using plasticene figures instead of ink (and often people off the street instead of scripted actors) to construct a parallel universe that both mirrors and intensifies everyday life. Its peak achievement so far is Nick Park's Oscar-winning 1990 short Creature Comforts, which matches whimsical, parodistic zoo animals with words taken from humans in like predicaments. It's primordially funny, one of the few cartoons of any kind that gets adults to laugh as helplessly as kids. In the most ticklish scenes, a Brazilian exchange student who hates London vocalizes the frustration of a big cat from the South American jungles -- a Latin relative of the Pink Panther -- that would gladly trade England's technological perks, like double-glazed windows, for hot, clear weather and space. The next-best cartoon on the program also belongs to Park. It's his 1995 Oscar-winning short A Close Shave, the third to feature eccentric inventor Wallace and his dog Friday and housemate, Gromit -- co-starring this time in a spellbinding tale of window washing, bungee jumping, and sheep rustling. Park is one of the supreme comic talents at work in movies today: Like Buster Keaton, he awakes the viewer to the formal power of the movie frame and to the vitality of its contents.

-- Michael Sragow

"Wallace and Gromit: The Best of Aardman Animation" screens at 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 p.m. daily through Thursday, Jan. 2, at the Roxie, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia). Note that the show replaces the previously scheduled screenings of Fire on the Mountain Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 18 and 19, listed on the Roxie calendar. Tickets are $6; call 863-1087.

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