Reviews

Creature Comforts (2006)

Dan MacIntosh

Creature Comforts is an odd, fictional series where animated animals are interviewed man-on-the-street style. And sometimes, these animals – much like kids -- say the darndest things.


Creature Comforts: Merry Christmas Everybody!

Display Artist: Richard Goleszowski, Nick Park
Director: Nick Park
Cast: The Great British Public
Studio: Aardman Animations
Distributor: Sony
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2006-10-04

Creature Comforts: The Complete Second Season

Display Artist: Richard Goleszowski, Nick Park
Director: Nick Park
Cast: The Great British Public
Studio: Aardman Animations
Distributor: Sony
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2006-10-04

Creature Comforts shares director Nick Park with the popular Wallace & Gromit series and film. And while the animation is intentionally comedic, these shorts are by no means children’s cartoons. Instead, adult conversation is exchanged among cute, non-human creatures, as if these pieces were real documentaries. It was fascinating to watch my seven-year-old daughter’s reaction to this show: You could tell she wanted to like it and somehow relate to it, but there was just something not quite right about it. For instance, why don’t these silly creatures go on some great adventure? Why aren’t they breaking out into song every 15 minutes or so? And where are all the obligatory potty jokes?

No, Virginia, this is not a Disney or a DreamWorks flick.

It is not uncommon for modern day animated programs to imagine animals as children. That makes sense because most of these shows are aimed at the absolute youngest demographic. Such is not the case here, however. These are mature adult voices, instead, which are speaking about grown-up topics such as sex (aka "Animal Magnetism"). If you’re just dying to know what makes pigs feel sexy, this is the episode for you. But if makin’ bacon -- as the old t-shirt used to exclaim -- is not the talk for you, you may want to move on to another part of the farm.

In a few instances these animal voices neatly match human stereotypes. Is it really surprising that two bats hanging upside down, named Muriel and Catherine, also speak in elderly lady voices? They’re just a couple of old bats, after all. In a couple of scenes, these winged octogenarians are shown drinking from glasses that are hanging upside down right along with them. So it’s a little like SpongeBob Squarepants, where physical contradictions are left in just for fun.

This double disc package also includes the Creature Comforts: Merry Christmas

Everybody! DVD. It is special program that features the same primary cast of characters, but it focuses squarely on the holiday season and is built around the "Twelve Days of Christmas" song. Animals, much like humans, apparently also have a tough time remembering the words to this epic -- albeit nonsensical -- song, with its laundry list of items for each (holi)day. They also have big problems figuring out what -- if anything-- this mishmash of gifts they sing about has to do with the Christmas season. There is the singing of the song, which is mixed with wry commentary that points out just how little we truly understand the tune. How do "Eight maids a-milking" fit in with the Baby Jesus or Santa Claus? It makes you wonder why we bravely attempt to sing it every year, even though we don’t have a clue what it’s all about. The animal kingdom is as clueless as I am on that one.

This is unlike, say, A Charlie Brown Christmas, where the "real" meaning of Christmas (you know, the spiritual stuff) is thrown in at the end. Here, you also get a few uniquely animalistic perspectives on the celebration, such as a dog’s eye view of looking in through the window during a human holiday gathering. This particularly British take on Christmas sticks to the hustle and bustle of the season, as well as its various traditions.

Indeed, there are whole episodes dedicated to strictly British subject matter. "Monarchy Business", for instance, finds these furry and fluffy ones giving their strong opinions about the Queen and the royal family. In it, one dog shares his past experience of spotting Princess Margaret waving to the crowd on the way to the toilet. This is followed up by two dogs speaking in formal accents while standing in front of a king’s portrait. Here, one dog speaks eloquently about the royal family, while the other one pisses on the picture. Ugh. I'd say visual urination is by no means appropriate for any age -- even if it is animated.

Although it’s not as wacky or as crude as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Creature Comforts will likely appeal to fans of that program -- and its ilk -- most of all. There is an intellectual / sociological base to it that makes it cerebral humor. Thus, it is an odd mixture of childlike visuals, matched to man-on-the-street interviews, which leaves it suitable for the kid inside every adult.

Bonus features on this two-DVD set include featurettes on the animation process, the voices behind the characters, and a "making of" feature. Overall, this is good stuff when viewed in small dosages. But because it doesn’t have a lot of action, it is a little bit like watching a series of late night talk shows all in a row: Once you’ve seen one segment, you’re basically clued in on the formula for the rest of it. But in its own subtle way, it is also quite funny.

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