creature comforts—The Complete First Season (TV)

(2003) *** Unrated
133 min. ITV. Director: Whitney Ransick. Cast: Freddy R. Capra, Arthur Nascarella, Karina Arroyave, Frank Medrano, Danny Cistone.

"The Great British Public" says the darndest things. That's the premise behind creature comforts, an endearing series of animated shorts that put the musings of the British public into the mouths of all manner of non-human animals. It all started with "vox-pop, found-sound, documentary-recording stuff" crudely animated by David Sproxton and Peter Lord, founders of Aardman Animation. A meeting of minds between Aardman and struggling animator Nick Park led, before long, to the Oscar-winning animated short "Creature Comforts."

In 2003, treating that film as a pilot, Aardman produced for the UK's ITV thirteen episodes running nine minutes and twenty seconds each. The episodes, each built on a common topic of conversation, are "the circus," "pets at the vets," "working animals," "the sea," "the garden," "feeding time," "the beach," "the pet shop," "what's it all about?", "being a bird," "is anyone out there?", "cats or dogs?", and "merry christmas."

The gag is creatively to heighten everyday confessions by apt choices of animals, giving new contexts to verbal references (in "working animals," a cockroach explains, "I've worked in a hotel...I'd help in a kitchen," and lab rats grumble about on-the-job conditions). Thus, anonymous stars are born, such as the married couple reborn as a cat named Captain Cuddlepuss and a dog named Trixie. Lying beside each other on the couch of a middle-class apartment, Captain Cuddlepuss lazily drawls his philosophies and gently bickers with the tentative inklings of Trixie.

Recurring characters appear in small doses in each episode, and though Captain Cuddlepuss and Trixie are my favorites, others will cotton to slugs Gary and Nigel (another amusing double-act), Fluffy (a depressive hamster), Muzulu and Toto (cheeky performing monkeys), gifted gabber Pickles the Guide Dog, or adorable baby birds Ted and Stan, among many other characters. The characters are distinct in part because of their regional dialects and largely for their social dynamic as individuals or in small groups. The detailed plasticene animation replaces reality with its own caricatured version that humorously details gestures, expressions, and background action that define each character's habitat.

Though kids will enjoy creature comforts, it's made with adults in mind, and the series improves as it goes along, moving from relatively obvious episodes built on settings (as in the 1990 short, set in a zoo) to jazzier, looser themes, like the meaning of life and the existence of aliens. Though those episodes are exciting, the series is perhaps best represented by "the pet shop," an extended metaphor for being plucked hopefully from the dating pool. creature comforts tickles most effectively in its small doses, but its cleverness and craft are undeniable.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround

Street date: 9/27/2005

Distributor: Sony Home Entertainment

Sony's very cool special edition of creature comforts presents all thirteen uncut episodes, as well as the original short film "Creature Comforts" (5:17) and three illuminating featurettes. The first featurette—"creating creature comforts: behind the scenes"—qualifies as a short documentary (in widescreen), with approximately 24 minutes devoted the origin, pre-production, production, and post-production of creature comforts. No less than 17 interviewees at Aardman Productions—including art directors, character designers, model makers, the director of photography, and on-the-floor animators—contribute comments about the laborious process of getting two or three seconds of footage each day. Park, director Richard Goleszowski, and Sproxton expound at length.

"bringing creature comforts to life" (6:00) offers a series of "live action video briefings," in which the director and animators lip-sync to the edited audio interviews and enact a video reference for the eventual animations. "creature comforts: favorite bits" (9:54) sits Goleszowski down at an editing suite to wax enthusiastically about his top "acting" moments, "background action," "tricky shots," and "fav shots" from the first season of creature comforts. Previews for Stella Street, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (a great trailer), the upcoming animated film Open Season, and Seinfeld round out the disc. The family-friendly creature comforts comes strongly recommended.
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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