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Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention
March 17, 2012

It’s not the large amount of Wallace and Gromit I was hoping for, but it is interesting nonetheless. Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention is a six-part newsmagazine-like educational show for all ages in which the animated characters serve as hosts for live-action segments.

Each show runs 29 minutes, with a standard minute-long animated introduction (the same every show), a show-specific introduction with the characters (about another minute), five or six topic segments running three to five minutes each, and some interstitials with Wallace and Gromit between the filmed pieces. They usually have a small continuing storyline and a tie-in to the topic, such as during the flight episode, which has Gromit accidentally launched in a rocket. You can view the introduction, in which Wallace wakes up while Gromit prepares the TV studio.

I found the segments intriguing and informative. I had no idea all of this was going on among scientists and inventors today. It’s inspiring to the imagination, and I hope some of the younger viewers will be enthused to create and experiment for themselves. I also appreciated the variety of subjects and presenters; it wasn’t all older white guys. The episode topics are as follows:

“Nature Knows Best” presents inventions inspired by Mother Nature. Segments cover a German company designing flying structures based on aquatic creatures; robots that eat flies for energy to power themselves; kinetic sculptures powered by wind; information on how termites live and build their mounds as inspiration for architecture; and a history of ways to breathe underwater.

“Reach for the Sky” explores flight with reports on jet packs; designing an updated astronaut suit; kite and airship design using the magnus effect (whirlpools of air currents); homemade rockets and fuel; and bicycle-powered craft and other human-powered designs. Each episode also has a segment of funny footage. This time, it’s very familiar, as it covers attempts at flying that were miserable failures.

Wallace and Gromit have a TV show

Wallace and Gromit have a TV show

“Home Sweet Home” looks at household chores, including domestic robots and the problem with making them look humanoid; a boy who built a windmill to provide electricity to his village in Malawi; a history of tea-making devices; Einstein’s refrigerator design; and the inventor of the windup radio.

As usual, Gromit does all the work

As usual, Gromit does all the work

“Come to Your Senses” starts off with an exploration of how to make things invisible before covering early attempts at mobile communication; inventing an artificial arm; using bees’ sense of smell to detect explosives; and glasses that substitute for lack of vision by delivering signals to the wearer’s tongue.

“Better Safe Than Sorry” is about protection, from ejector seats to another view of space suits; using unmanned drones, or even pigeons, to gain information without risking troops; a weirdo who filed a ton of patent applications; and the story of Hedy Lamarr’s invention of a torpedo guidance system using frequency changes, a technology that’s a key part of the mobile phone switching system in use today.

“Getting From A to B” wraps up with unusual ways to get around, including a one-person submarine, electric cars, a flying saucer propelled by laser beam, a railway run by vacuum air pressure, and a personal electric transport vehicle created by Sir Clive Sinclair, who previously made major strides in popularizing the pocket calculator, the digital watch, and the personal computer.

The extras are six “Your World of Invention” segments (38 minutes total) on gadgets you can make yourself, with a lot of effort and equipment, inspired by segments from the show: Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway, Wind-Powered Sprinkler, Fin Ray Grabber, Air Rocket, Spy Camera, Upside-Down-O-Scope. These are all live-action, with nothing to do with Wallace or Gromit. (The studio provided a review copy.)

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