Creature Comforts: Series 2, Part 1 (1989)
20th November 2005
The original Creature Comforts film was made way back in 1989 and in 1990 it went on to win Aardman Director, Nick Park, his first Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. This inspired the Heat Electric television commercials in which various creatures from a Tortoise to a Jaguar were interviewed "documentary style" about the merits of owning electric storage heaters in their homes. Whether these adverts caused people to rush out and buy new storage heaters is a different matter. However, they did succeed in capturing the imagination of the British public. And, mainly thanks to the BBC commissioning a one off animated programme, Nick Park went on to create three highly successful, and Oscar award winning, Wallace and Gromit adventures.
With his animation winning awards left, right and centre, it was only a matter of time until Hollywood came calling. And when they did, Nick Park and his animation studio Aardman created the smash box office hit Chicken Run. Fortunately, fame hadn't gone to his head and it wasn't too long before he returned to his roots and produced another thirteen episodes of Creature Comforts for British television station ITV. But when Hollywood came calling again, Nick returned returned to the land of gold for Wallace and Gromit's first big movie - Wallace & Gromit The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. And with the record breaking film receiving praise and accolades from just about every direction possible, will another Oscar be heading in the direction of Aardman? I wouldn't bet against it, nor would a sequel be unlikely.
However, in the mean time, Creature Comforts has returned for another series of unscripted and unashamedly funny episodes. And with the movie still riding high, what better way is there to raise their profile even higher? Each of the six brand new episodes features many of best characters from the previous series, such as Trixie and Captain Cuddlepuss the bickering dog and cat, Fluffy the ever depressed hamster and Clement the equally depressed looking bloodhound. There's also over one hundred new characters to laugh along with. I just hope a few of them survived the terrible warehouse fire that saw the vast majority of Aardman's creatures reduced to sticky blobs of their former selves.
Creature Comforts : Series Two consists of the following six episodes:
You only have to watch the original Creature Comforts to see just how good the picture on the new material is. Naturally, with better technology and more money available it would have been a shock if the picture hadn't been up to scratch, and the second series is even better than the first. The quality is superb with an above average bitrate throughout along with a wonderful level of detail and range of colours and expressions that only Aardman could ever think of dreaming up. Naturally, being a television series, there are no signs of artifacting or outlining and the print is pristine with no dust scratches or other picture imperfections. It's a series that is most definitely at home on DVD.
As the series was created for UK terrestrial television channel ITV1, the sound is presented in rather unexciting 192Kbps stereo. However, considering that Creature Comforts was primarily created for television broadcast, the soundtrack was never really going to be that adventurous. With the soundtrack being dialogue intensive, with the occasional blast of music, there is little or no need for any fancy effects. But what is offered is some clear and precise dialogue, even if the original interview dialogue was recorded on what looks like a portable MiniDisc recorder. Still, Aardman must have had a DVD release in mind, and with all their new exploits and adventures in Hollywood, they really should have come up with something a little better during production.
Once you get past the ever present, and increasingly annoying, anti-piracy spiel, the menus are scored and amusingly animated with clips from the show. Given the relatively short running time of the disc, there's the ever handy option of playing all the episodes in one go, selecting and viewing an individual episode or playing the Muriel and Catherine, Brian and Keith, Captain Cuddlepuss and Trixie and Malcolm and Derek episodes in one go. However, none of the episodes have subtitles. The bonus material is spread across two menus with a Behind the Scenes and Bonus Material menu.
The thirty eight minute Eyeballs and Fishlips : The Making of Creature Comforts 2 featurette looks at the creation process, from the initial recording process right through to the final animation. Presented by Dan Sinclair, an interviewer for Creature Comforts, we follow him as he goes on his journey around the country interviewing people and recording their responses. Once a recording has been made he'll take the fresh MiniDisc back to the studio where it will be digitised and then passed on to another person who transcribes the interview. This is then used by the Creature Comfort team to create a script and animation and storyboard ideas for the clip to the ultimate animation part. And, unlike the Simpsons, not one bit of that is sent to Taiwan. It's all very interesting stuff and well worth a watch as you see a lump of plasticine molded into an animal with various facial expressions.
The nine minute The People Behind the Puppets reveals some of the real faces behind the on screen plasticine. Whilst it's certainly interesting to see some of the real faces behind the characters, it does shave some of that charm and mystery off the series. Still, I'm sure I'd still be complaining if they hadn't included a feature like this. Highlight would have to be the two old dears who don't look like they know what day of the week it is, plus they have a spot of bother hearing just what the interviewer is talking about.
The Bonus Menu contains a rather surprisingly grainy trailer for Wallace & Gromit The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I'm not sure where they got their stock footage from, but it certainly wasn't from any form of master source and hints of a bit of an after thought. Next up is twenty minutes worth of Rehearsals where various members of the production team act out a scene for the animators before you see the fully animated scene. It's certainly interesting to watch, especially since a fair few of the amusing clips don't appear in this release. I just hope they appear in the second half of the series. There's also one minutes worth of the amusing Country Code advertisement where we all learn about the country code of closing the gate and not dropping rubbish. It's yet another classic from Park and co.
One of the things that makes Creature Comforts so good is the fact that the animal interviews (and even some of the background noises) were unscripted and unrehearsed. Even though the people being recorded knew it was for Creature Comforts, they still had to sound like real people and they didn't know which animals they were going to have their voices put to. It must have been great to hear yourself on television and then be equally horrified to see that they'd put your voice to a slug or a dung beetle. Mind you, I'm sure the two confused old old ladies weren't too chuffed with their bat characters, whilst the voice behind Fluffy the hamster (still the best character in the series) could quite possibly have a new career as an after dinner speaker. It's certainly something to tell the grandchildren about.
Creature Comforts is an absolute hoot to watch. With the superb animation (is it really just stop-go clay animation?), the various goings on in the background to the wonderfully unscripted stories from the general public, I don't think I've laughed so much in ages. It's also a disc that can be watched over and over again without getting bored. And with the previous series just as fresh as this series, you can keep laughing for hours as you keep spotting new things happening in the scenes.
Whilst there's no doubt that this is a fun DVD, I would still have to question the rather high asking price of £17.99 for such a short disc. Ok, if you shop around a bit on-line then you aren't going to be paying anywhere near the RRP, but even so, it's still rather expensive for its short running time. Still, fans are sure to buy, and shopping on-line will make it much cheaper. Never the less, it's still worth considering hanging on for the inevitable box-set containing both parts of the series. It may be slightly cheaper, and it may even have some extra goodies too.
- Eyeballs and Fishlips : The Making of Creature Comforts 2
- The People Behind the Puppets
- Creating Creature Comforts 2: Rehearsals
- Countryside Code Short
- Trailer: Wallace & Gromit The Curse of the Were-Rabbit