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The Wrong Trousers at 30: The Everlasting Terror of Feathers McGraw

3 min read

When we take into account the greatest cinematic villains of all time, who first comes to mind? Hannibal Lecter? Jack Nicholson's The Joker? Heath Ledger's Joker? Darth Vader, surely?! We all know the A-listers, we all know their names, but there's one dastardly character often omit from the pantheon of great villainy. One name that lingers between the crevices of nightmare and memory… . Yes, the chicken penguin from Wallace and Gromit.

's second stop-motion short starring Wallace and Gromit, , celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and the fictional duo have since become icons of animation and British culture itself. We've watched these Lancashire lads experience grand days out, close shaves, and run-ins with all sorts of nefarious troublemakers over the years. Oh, and did I mention they even have their own Harvey Nichols fashion campaign? But of all their numerous comical adventures, it's 1993's The Wrong Trousers that has one small thing the others don't: it's infamous villain. 

In the film's opening, Wallace (voiced by the late Peter Sallis) decides they should rent out the spare room in order to pay off costly bills. Enter Feathers McGraw; a notorious criminal with unnerving black eyes that somehow transform this seemingly innocuous penguin into a figure of silent malice. Much like Gromit, this anthropomorphic character never speaks, but – much unlike Gromit – his mute disposition comes across as eerie and cold, which unsettles both our canine protagonist and the viewer watching at home. Before we even get acquainted with the new tenant, he immediately uproots Gromit from his own bedroom, nabbing it for himself. Soon enough, his impudent schemes of subterfuge drive poor Gromit out the house, all while Wallace has the proverbial wool pulled over his eyes. Forget Joker or Vader; Feathers McGraw just became public enemy number one for declaring war on Britain's favourite beagle.

 

His endgame? To steal a diamond. Where from? The local museum. How so? With the convenient help of Wallace's new invention, the titular techno-trousers, which enable the tiny burglar to scale the building and take the prized jewel for himself, tax free. But this isn't Feathers McGraw's greatest crime. No, it's not some elaborate robbery or any other form of illegality. It's his responsibility for taking a dog away from his owner and a man away from his best friend. No matter how old you are or how many times you've seen The Wrong Trousers, it still never gets any easier watching a teary Gromit don his yellow raincoat and walk out alone into that dark and stormy night. You can't have Wallace without Gromit, and vice versa, you can't have Gromit without Wallace. And although Feathers won't be the only one to tear these two apart, he'll always be the first. It goes to show that you don't need to fight Batman or Luke Skywalker to be the biggest bad in town, you just have to make a dog cry. 

And yet, despite his soulless actions, we still can't help but smile as we watch him charmingly play the villain. In the climatic last act of the film, Feathers – diamond in tow – almost makes a clean getaway, but suddenly finds himself cornered by one angry looking Gromit. So what does he do – run? No, he point-blank draws a gun on him. Armed with a revolver that, for all intent and purposes, appears to be very real the moment bullets start flying in the sequential train chase. It's a Chaplin-esque bit of physical comedy that never ceases to be funny, not just because of the visual gag, but also because Feathers doesn't miss a beat with his deadpan Dirty Harry act. If he could actually talk, I wouldn't put it past him to give us his best Clint Eastwood impression.

It's Park's quaint juxtaposition of this serious/silly that make The Wrong Trousers' villain – and the entire Wallace and Gromit series itself – such a joy to watch. Whether it's Feathers' utterly transparent chicken disguise (a modest red rubber glove worn atop his head) or Gromit's high-brow choice of literature (Plato's The Republic), there's an innocent sense of playfulness to the making of these films. Every detail is rich with comic nuance and each scene overflows with whimsical creativity, making otherwise mundane domestic moments pop with life. It's why we secretly love this penguin and his daft little quirks, even when he's trying to shoot our heroes. Here's hoping we haven't seen the last of Feathers Mcgraw…