Why should you read the DVD review before buying, if you're already a fan? Appellate Judge James A. Stewart warns about the evils of accidental double-dips.
"Charles—I—I think that they ought to put him in a kennel."
Can you imagine the heir to the British throne as a bulldog in a kennel? Maybe for Season Three, the team from Aardman Animation will do celebrity interviews, but for now, it's ordinary people who are going to the dogs—and other creatures.
Those of you who enjoyed Creature Comforts: The Complete First Season know that Aardman Animation (Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) took interviews with members of "The Great British Public" and put them into the animated mouths of plasticine, animated animals. The concept was first used in an Oscar-winning animated short in 1990, then became a weekly ITV series in 2003. Since it takes a while to create thousands of slightly different frames of plasticine animals, the episodes in Creature Comforts: The Complete Second Season are from 2005.
Facts of the Case
The 13 episodes in this two-disc set include:
The double-length "Merry Christmas Everybody!" is featured on its own disc, with everything else on the other disc. This episode has also been released separately, as Creature Comforts: Merry Christmas Everybody!; it's been reviewed in detail separately as well. Beware of accidental double-dips!
In a profile of the Aardman animation team, a sketch artist says the Aardman crew was trying for more of a Gary Larson look to the second season of Creature Comforts. True, you get more of Trixie and Captain Cuddlepuss, two favorite characters from Season One. Now that she mentions it, though, the new series does have more grotesqueries—bats, spiders, slugs, and flies. The ITV Creature Comforts Web site boasts that the new series features more than 100 new characters. The result is visuals that are more ironic and surreal than in the first season. You'll see penguins going out for ice cream, a spider on a rearview mirror talking about the way people drive, and a fly saying, "I hate spiders."
Among the most sublime bits this time around are a sheep whistling to demonstrate how sheep know where to go, sending his mates around in circles, and a voice attached to a monkey explaining, "I think, sort of, the great apes are capable of thinking up to a point, but they can't follow a chain of thought very far. The, uh, um, concept that, uh, um …"
There are moments both satirical—a mouse saying "You wanna bash somebody because we're British" after being roused to a patriotic fervor by "Rule Britannia"—and silly—a crab saying, "I've pulled a mussel," with the animators putting a new, oddly literal spin on what the original interview subject said.
As in the first season, droll humor comes from ordinary people talking about ordinary situations—family, pet peeves, and snoring, to name just a few. This time, though, much of "The Great British Public" has seen Creature Comforts, so the interview subjects seem more aware of how their words will turn out on the telly. You see it here and there, with a woman saying she's not biting at her husband's goofy remark or something in the voices that suggests the people are playing up something for laughs intentionally. You also get a few too many gags in which the interview subject didn't hear the interviewer properly, suggesting that the material is thinning out some.
It's addressed directly in "The People Behind the Puppets," a short that shows a few of the people who provided the inspiration for the season's new characters. They explain that "Our voices will be dubbed with funny little things. It'll be quite fun to watch them" or note that "When I'm an old man, I'll certainly remember this sort of thing."
The success of the show means that it's less spontaneous this time around. That meant that the Aardman animators had to work harder to put more into the vignettes, so there are still plenty of laughs and interesting observations. If you liked Season One, you'll want to hear them and see how Aardman spins a mundane observation into the thoughts of a spider in a web this time around, but newcomers should start at the beginning to get into the show's offbeat mindset. Even with the familiarity, though, the Christmas episode in Season Two may be the best of the series.
Aardman took a lot of care with their little animations, and it shows in the screen images. The stereo sound comes across well, especially when you realize that the interviews were conducted in a variety of natural environments.
As with any Aardman production, the peeks behind the scenes in the special features are interesting. As "Eyeballs and Fishlips: The Making of Creature Comforts 2" takes viewers through the process of creating the series from start to finish, wrapping with the Aardman team outside the factory, in a scene reminiscent of early 20th Century British filmmakers Mitchell and Kenyon. As mentioned above, "The People Behind the Puppets" takes an extended look at the interview subjects, while "Animated Conversations" features the animators themselves talking about their creations. One woman explains, for example, that she's come up with an elaborate backstory for a quick scene with a polar bear. Does she get to create her own animal image if they use her for Season Three?
There's also a short public service advert, "The Countryside Code," which has creatures asking Britons to take care of the countryside.
Creature Comforts has a more adult sense of humor about it than you'd find in the antics of Wallace and Gromit. It's tasteful, but there are occasional sexual references, as it is mostly adults talking about life.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It'll be tough for Aardman to top the first two seasons of anthropomorphic humor, especially with "The Great British Public" onto their act. Stay tuned.
Soon there will be American animals making observations about life, as Aardman has made a deal for a CBS version of Creature Comforts to air in 2007. Since the animated animals making wry observations in Over the Hedge had to blow things up to get attention as they moved from funnies page to the box office, the show's prospects here might be dubious. Still, there's plenty of British drollery to enjoy.
Not guilty. I have to go now; I've pulled a mussel while writing.
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• "Animated Conversations"
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