Directed by: Merlin Crossingham | 150 minutes | animation, comedy | Featuring: Jem Stansfield, Ashley Jensen | Original voice cast: Peter Sallis, John Sparks
Who better to present a British TV show about bizarre yet fascinating inventions than England’s famous inventor Wallace? The beloved clay animation figure devised by Studio Aardman, and who experiences the best adventures together with his loyal, and actually much smarter four-legged friend Gromit, is also known for his ingenious, but not always successful inventions. “Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention” is a six-episode BBC series that examines recent as well as ancient science in a fun and educational way.
In the first episode, “Nature Knows Best”, we look at the wonders of nature and how Mother Nature inspired science to make fantastic inventions. The German company Festo was inspired, among other things, by the beautiful manta rays. The graceful way in which these beautiful sea inhabitants move about led the company to design an air ray, a remote-controlled hybrid construction, which is filled with helium and can “swim” through the airspace. They also made a kind of robotic arm that is so flexible that even delicate fruit, such as tomatoes, can be picked up without them breaking. There is also a lot to learn from termites. Their impressive structures provide an always-chilled living environment, something that architects would happily apply to man-made buildings. We also get to see an interesting report on how the construction of a termite mound in Malawi is mapped and how this can be translated into the houses of the future. “Nature Knows Best” also has a Dutch touch. Theo Jansen, who was born in Scheveningen, shows his creation, a beach animal made of PVC pipes (and later also plastic bottles and other plastic materials), which over the years (Jansen has been working on it since 1990) increasingly ‘evolved’ and can walk almost independently on the beach.
In the second episode, “Reach for the Sky”, the BBC program delves deeper into man’s longstanding fascination with the art of flight. Sometimes hilarious are the – perilous – inventions of people who do everything they can to feel like a bird for just a few seconds, such as Stuart Ross, the man who made a jetpack, which is so expensive in terms of fuel that it actually takes years. must save for few seconds in the air. Incidentally, the tenacity of the inventors is without exception admirable, like Steve Bennett, who has been busy making his own rocket from an early age. Another revolutionary invention is that of Dava Newman (one of the few female inventors in the series!), Who invented a lightweight astronaut suit, which gives astronauts much more freedom of movement. Regular ‘World of Invention’ employee Jem Stansfield visits Fred Ferguson, who knows how to get the best out of the Magnus effect with his invention. The top six aircraft that never took off are also very funny. Think of “On land, at sea and in the air” and you have an idea of what you will see. Very interesting is the introduction to the phenomenon Gustav Mesmer, whose outlandish inventions made him a beloved character (but whose life history was actually quite tragic).
In “Home Sweet Home,” the third installment of “Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention,” the duo takes a look at inventions made over the years to make housekeeping easier. Although, easier…? Of course, countless devices have also been invented that have hardly any right to exist. But Tony Sale’s house robot is very cute. William Kamkwamba deserves a good pat on the back, who started building a windmill in his village of Wimbe, Malawi, at the age of fourteen, which provided electricity for his parental home. The special thing about it is that he figured it out all by himself, by reading a book about wind energy in the library. He took the materials from the rubbish dump. Another eye opener is the item about the tea maker (teasmades), with which Britons in the previous century were woken up in the morning by an alarm clock, which immediately prepared a nice cup of hot tea for them. Jem Stansfield explains to viewers how Albert Einstein’s never-released refrigerator works, and visits young inventor Emily Cummins, who invented a mobile refrigerator that can be used for festivals and concerts, but – even better – for people in areas where there is no electricity. Her fridge can be made from waste materials. Trevor Baylis shows us how his wind-up radio came about.
The episode is “Come to Your Senses”, and it is all about senses. Sir John Pendry shows how his invisibility cloak works, something that will appeal to Harry Potter enthusiasts. Unfortunately, this may give rise to false expectations, because his invention, which does not even resemble a cloak, makes the object invisible to the radar, not to the eye. Funny is the report on the first cell phone, devised by Nathan Stubblefield, which was quite successful in rural Kentucky (but later failed miserably in New York). The story of the determined Mark Lesek is very impressive. He lost his right arm in an accident. Dissatisfied with the available artificial arms, he made a better, stronger prosthesis himself, so that he could continue to do his work as a mechanic. He based his arm on the 1902 Carnes arm and perfected the design. Very special (no pun intended) is also the article about honey bees, which are trained in such a way that they can smell explosives.
Better Safe Than Sorry, the fifth and penultimate installment of Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention, is about safety. Wallace tries to get through the broadcast unscathed in the studio, but that is not easy. The first item, about the ejection seat, is very interesting. Not only do we see the invention in action and its history explained, also Craig Penrice, whose life has been saved no less than twice thanks to an ejection seat, also speaks. Funny is the piece about drones, in which, en passant, the German propaganda table about photographing pigeons from the First and Second World War is undermined. Jem elaborates on the inventions of The Most Beautiful Woman In Films, Holllywood star Hedy Lamarr, who came up with a method that made radio communication insensitive to outside interference, also known as frequency hopping. She was not taken seriously at the time, but nowadays we can be grateful to her for our dependence on mobile telephony. It is difficult to suppress a smile with the item about Arthur Pedrick. The British inventor regularly drew attention by filing for 162 patents between 1962 and 1976, for the most absurd inventions, none of which were actually feasible. The space suits piece, in which Bill Ayrey talks about the astronaut safety suits made by ILC Dover, may well undermine the earlier entry on the same topic from Episode 2. After all, the top six inventions that turn out to be very bad for your health are funny, but they are far-fetched due to the differences between them.
Getting from A to B, the sixth and final episode, is about means of transport. The Russian Mikhail Puchkov tells animatedly about his submarine that he designed. His story is extra special because of the political history in his country. Eccentric inventor Cedric Lynch (would it be the last name?) Shows his self-invented clean engine, which should make it possible to make electric cars accessible to everyone soon. On the Isle of Man, Lynch even competes in the electric TT race, proving that his idea is quite feasible. It must have been very easy to put together the top six of this episode, because bizarre means of transport are of course in abundance. The flying saucer powered by a laser beam was invented by Charles Osmond Frederick. And although his invention turned out to be unsuccessful, Leik N. Myrabo is currently working in Brazil on a renewed concept, the Lightcraft, which closely resembles the old British design. A revolution in aviation? If it is up to Myrabo, it is, because if he is proven right, with his invention you will be at any place on earth in 45 minutes with his invention … Inventor Clive Sinclair has already meant a lot to the world. His pocket calculator was also revolutionary, as was the digital watch he invented. Sinclair was also at the forefront of PC home use, but his inventions in the field of transportation were less successful. His Sinclair C5, an electric tricycle, was a commercial disaster, but the Brit does not want to give up yet. With the Sinclair X-1 – which should be introduced in 2012 (according to this series) – he hopes to change the street scene. Finally, Jem goes to the Didcot Railway Center, which pays tribute to one of the failures of Brunel, a great engineer who created groundbreaking designs for British infrastructure. With his atmospheric railway he hoped to make trains move by means of a vacuum in a tunnel between the rails. Jem builds his invention and proves that it should work.
“Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention” is English spoken and Dutch ands subtitled, so it will not be easy for the young Aardman fans to follow the series. The series is also full of language jokes, not all of which can be translated, so it is more enjoyable if you master the English language. The lion’s share of the running time of the episodes is spent on reportage-like films in which a particular invention is in the spotlight. You don’t see Wallace and Gromit very often. They are invariably present at the beginning and end of the episode and they often form a humorous bridge to a new item, but if you are only interested in the animation duo and science leaves you cold, ‘Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention ‘not a must. Are you curious about what science has to offer, this fluent series can certainly be a good introduction. But whether you will put it in your player more than once is the question.