A Matter of Loaf and Death is an animated television short created by Nick Park and Bob Baker, and the fourth of his shorts to star his characters Wallace and Gromit. It is the first Wallace and Gromit project since the feature film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005, and the first short since A Close Shave in 2000.
Bob Baker is battered to death with his own rolling pin by an unseen assailant while baking a cake for his girlfriend, he is the latest of twelve bakers to be killed. Meanwhile, Wallace (Peter Sallis) and Gromit are running a "Dough to Door" delivery service from their bakery "Top Bun". On one such delivery, the duo save Piella Bakewell (Sally Lindsay), a former pin-up girl mascot for the "Bake-O-Lite" bread company, and her dog Fluffles, when the brakes on her bike appear to fail. After narrowly avoiding being eaten by a crocodile after they careen into the local zoo, Gromit becomes suspicious on learning that the bike was in perfect condition, but Wallace becomes smitten with Piella.
A whirlwind romance ensues, during which it is also shown that the nervous Fluffles is treated rather shabbily by Piella. Fluffles and Gromit also share a sensitive moment. Piella gives Wallace's house the "woman's touch". However, when she leaves her purse at the house, Wallace insists that Gromit return it. Thus, Gromit uncovers Piella's identity as the "Cereal Killer" and her plans to make Wallace her thirteenth victim, thus completing a "baker's dozen", and also that despite her lavish lifestyle, Fluffles has to sleep in an old cardboard box, covered with a tattered rag, implying years of abuse.
Despite Wallace being oblivious, Gromit attempts to thwart Piella by installing an airport-style metal detector in their home. After tricking Wallace into thinking that Gromit bit her, Piella almost succeeds at pushing Wallace to his death whilst a chained up Gromit can only watch, but she is thwarted by being struck by a bag of flour from Wallace's dough-mixing contraption. After an angry outburst against bakers, she leaves but returns a short time later to apologise with a large cake. Wallace says that it will do nicely for four o'clock tea. When Piella is leaving to attend to the absent Fluffles (who is "not well"), she tells him he will be getting a surprise. A worried Gromit follows her home only to be caught and imprisoned with Fluffles in a storeroom. Escaping in Piella's old Bake-O-Lite hot air balloon, they arrive at Wallace's house as he is lighting the candle.
After a struggle, the cake falls to the floor and the bomb inside is revealed. While attempting to dispose of the bomb, Wallace and Gromit are attacked by Piella, who rails against bakers and their baked products for ruining her figure and her career as the Bake-O-Lite girl and also causing her to retire due to her fatness and craving for bread and could not ride her own balloon anymore. While attempting to finish off Wallace, a battle ensues between Piella and Fluffles in a yellow forklift truck covered by giant oven mitts.
In the chaos, the bomb ends up in the back of Wallace's trousers. Gromit and Fluffles neutralise the explosion using a large amount of dough while Piella uses the distraction to leap onto her balloon and escape. However, owing to her weight, the balloon crashes into the crocodile pit at the zoo where she is eaten. Piella's ghost (her former thin self) waves goodbye to Wallace. Distraught by the violent death of her owner, Fluffles leaves, with both Wallace and Gromit depressed over their losses. Deciding to take their minds off things, they head out to deliver bread and find Fluffles standing in the driveway, uncertain as to what to do or where to go. She joins them in the van and the three drive off into the sunset.
Filming for A Matter of Loaf and Death began in 25 December 2008, and had the fastest production period for a Wallace and Gromit short. This was the first Aardman film to be made using the software Stop Motion Pro. Five models were created for Gromit alone, with scenes being shot simultaneously on thirteen sets. Commenting on the fact that the short will be made directly for a British audience, Nick Park said: "I don't feel like I'm making a film for a kid in some suburb of America — and being told they're not going to understand a joke, or a northern saying." Regardless, Park changed the title from Trouble at' Mill as he thought it was too obscure a Northern England colloquialism. As well as a final title that references A Matter of Life and Death, the film also references Aliens, Psycho, Indiana Jones, Batman, and Ghost.
Nick Park said in an interview with the Radio Times, "The BBC hardly gave a single note or instruction on the whole thing", and Park goes on to remark how it was better than his previous work with Dreamworks, Curse of the Were-Rabbit, where they kept on receiving calls to change critical things.
Park cast Sally Lindsay after hearing her on the Radcliffe and Maconie Show on BBC Radio 2 whilst driving from Preston. Although unfamiliar with her role as Shelly Unwin in Coronation Street, Park said "Sally has a lot of fun in her voice, flamboyant almost, and I was also looking for someone who could be quite charming too, but with a slightly posh northern accent. Piella needed to at times sound well-to-do, and then at others sound quite gritty".
The short had its world première in Australia on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's ABC1 on 1 February 2009 and was repeated again the following day on ABC2. In the UK it aired on Christmas Day at 20:30 on BBC One, although it had been readily available on The Pirate Bay since 25 December 2008. In late December 2008, Aardman Animations revealed they had "no idea" of how clips were leaked onto YouTube ahead of its screening in the United Kingdom. In France, A Matter of Loaf and Death was shown - dubbed into French - on Christmas Eve 2008 on M6. A German version entitled Auf Leben und Brot was broadcast on the SuperRTL network.
In a similar style to A Close Shave, Wallace and Gromit became the theme for BBC One's Christmas presentation for 2010 to promote the showing of A Matter of Loaf and Death.
The late completion of the film, after 1 February 2009, put it out of the running for an Academy Award for Animated Short Film nomination until 2011, but it was nominated for an Annie Award for Best Animated Short Subject in 2010, which it won.
The programme was watched by the most viewers of any programme on Christmas Day, 2008 in the UK and secured the largest Christmas Day audience in five years. It was also the most-watched UK programme in 2008, with a peak average audience of 14.4 million. The programme had a share of 53.3 percent, peaking with 58.1 percent and 15.88 million at the end of the programme. The repeat showing on New Year's Day even managed 7.2 million, beating ITV's Emmerdale in the ratings. The short was shown on British Television for the third time on Good Friday pulling in 3.4 million viewers. In BARB's official ratings published on 8 January 2009 it showed that A Matter of Loaf and Death had 16.15 million, making it the highest rated programme of 2008 and the highest rated non-sporting event in the UK since 2005 when an episode of Coronation Street garnered 16.3 million.
Critically, the movie's reception was more lukewarm than the earlier Wallace and Gromit shorts, with reviewers complaining that it was "nowhere near as inventive" with "few fresh ideas." The only real positive review came from USA Today, who gave the film four stars. Still, A Matter of Loaf and Death won the BAFTA Award for best short animation, and won the Annie Award for "Best Animated Short Subject". It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in the 82nd Academy Awards.