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Fourteen years after the original Creature Comforts animated short, Aardman resurrected the concept and brought a television series to our screens. Taking the original idea of animating normal interview footage and expanding it out to the everyday public, we are now into the second series and have the promise of a half-hour Christmas Special to look forward to as well. Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment released the first part of series two to UK DVD on 21st November 2005, and we take a look at it here.

Creature Comforts: Series 2 Part 1

Feature


”It’s very hard not to make a face when you do a chicken impression.”

It’s a very simple concept and one that has been the staple of many a Saturday evening UK show over the years–people say the funniest things. Well, mostly. From ‘home video’ shows to Jeremy Beadle-esque wind-ups, we are apparently quite a good source of cheap TV. But just looking at people sat on a sofa waxing lyrical about everyday stuff isn’t particularly thrilling, is it?

Visually you have a lot of freedom when all you have is an audio track and a bit of imagination, and the form of entertainment that has propelled Nick Park to numerous awards would seem ideally suited to bringing out the inner animal of the interviewed subjects. Directing duties on the second series have been taken over by Richard Goleszowski ( Rex the Runt, Robbie the Reindeer in Hooves of Fire), but the trademark styling of the animated characters remains typically Aardman.

If you’ve seen any of these before then you will know what to expect. Random members of the public get interviewed and allowed to ramble on about a given subject. The results are sifted through and the prime ones chosen to be animated with the animal (or animals) the production team think best suit them. This can be a bit hit and miss, but the animated antics manage in most cases to raise them up from the level of your average amusing anecdote.

The following shorts are included in this first instalment, each coming in at 8m56s. and the disc has a 'Play All' feature should you wish to watch them in one lump:

  • Beast in Show, where the phenomenon of the County Show gets explained to us city folk;
  • The Brood discusses the trials and tribulations of family life and having kids;
  • Pet Hates sees the plasticine creations issuing forth on the habits of their counterparts;
  • Impressions features everything from impressions of chickens (by a pig) to Robert De Niro (by a cat);
  • Animals in the ‘Hood delves into the living areas of the participants;
  • Sport! tries to get the feelings of those involved on some of the more active pastimes in life.

Creature Comforts: Series 2 Part 1
A fair few of the characters turn up frequently, from the ‘Geordie Mouse’ to the ‘Senior Citizen Bats’, and a couple just show up the once because they are the best fit for the particular snippet being aired. There are even a couple of appearances by ‘Tortoise and Hare’, who would have had a Hollywood vehicle all of their own by now if it weren’t for scripting problems, but at least Wallace and Gromit got pushed up the schedule because of it.

All of the shorts are quite humorous in their own way, but being the made up of interviews of ‘The Good Old British Public’ those not from these shores might find some of the accents a little difficult to grasp. Similarly, the simple nature of these may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the animation adds to the fun and it might make a nice stocking filler for your mum (mine’s just started watching these on a Sunday night).

Video


This isn’t one of your big budget, glossy CGI-fests, but nevertheless everything here comes across looking superb. The anamorphic 1.78:1 picture shows off everything with a high amount of detail, obviously helped by the fact that the backgrounds are static and therefore do not suffer from any sort of motion-blur. The painstaking attention to detail of the set designers is represented well, with the colour showing a natural beauty and never exhibiting any problems. All the shots on this page serve as fine examples of this, and the last shows an excellent depth of focus–although it is of course nowhere near the scale they are pretending to show.

Creature Comforts: Series 2 Part 1
I did spot a small problem–a tiny bit of haloing on the crab that carries the title card for each episode–but the animation of the models themselves is showcased with nary a blemish, and overall this is an excellent effort. Of course there isn’t anything here that is that challenging for the format to render, so anything less than great would have been criminal. Something that perhaps should be an offence, though, is the lack of any subtitles at all on the disc.

Audio


With expectations high for the video quality, the same wasn’t true for the sound. Armed with the knowledge that the soundtracks are basically just MiniDisc’d interviews of general members of the public, it came as no surprise that the sound is nothing to write home about.

The plain English Stereo track can have moments where the vocals sound harsh or dull, but this is no doubt the fault of the source. There is some nice stereo panning and placement of background effects though, and anything that comes across as unintelligible is more likely down to the participants themselves. Nothing special was required, and in that respect I wasn’t disappointed.

Creature Comforts: Series 2 Part 1

Extras


We get two main sections here–‘Bonus Materials’ and ‘Behind the Scenes’. The Bonus Materials comprise a trailer for Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (1m56s, anamorphic 1.78:1), the ‘Countryside Code’ public information short (60s, letterboxed 1.78:1), and the largest piece in the section ‘Creating Creature Comforts 2: Rehearsals’ (20m36s, anamorphic 1.78:1). The latter is footage of the crew ‘acting out’ to the interview clips in an attempt to come up with ideas on how they want the final models to behave, but it has to be said they do look a bit silly and the lip-syncing is usually way off!

The behind the scenes section holds the most in terms of content and interesting stuff. ‘Eyeballs and Fishlips: The Making of Creature Comforts 2’ (37m46s, anamorphic 1.78:1) has interviewer Dan Sinclair taking us through the process of creating the show, from his initial interviews of the public through to the animators shooting the models. The amount of work that goes into these nine minute shorts is impressive, especially when you consider that they have more than 500 interviews to choose from and that the animators only expect to complete around four seconds of animation a day.

‘The People Behind the Puppets’ (8m53s, anamorphic 1.78:1) is basically footage of the interviews, with each followed by the animated version. You get to see the true faces of Geordie Mouse, the Sharpei (look it up–I had to!), and the bats.

In addition to the above you also get the option to ‘play by character’, although in truth you can only do this for four pairs of characters–Muriel & Catherine (clips totalling 2m42s), Brian & Keith (1m25s), Captain Cuddlepuss & Trixie (2m16s), and Malcolm & Derek (2m09s). The selections could have–and should have–been much larger than this, and it is a pity that the full gamut of characters is not catered for.

Still, for a low key disc the fairly in-depth behind the scenes footage is a worthwhile inclusion and some effort has been made to pad this out to more than just a small collection of nine minute shorts.

Creature Comforts: Series 2 Part 1

Overall


A harmless collection of short, animated pieces showcasing the great British humour that the whole world loves (yes, you do–don’t argue). It isn’t the highly polished and scripted fare that most people seem to want, but it has models, and they are made out of plasticine, and they move in funny ways and that. And don’t forget that it is animals talking as well.

The additional features are nothing special–although the ‘Making of...’ is quite in-depth–and it is a pity that the disc didn’t go that extra mile with the ‘play by character’ option. That said, the presentation of what is here is good, and indeed excellent in terms of the video. The minor pimple on the forehead of the video that is the minor ‘crab edge enhancement’ issue doesn’t really sully an otherwise fine effort.


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