Fierce Creatures

Fierce Creatures (1997)
Universal Home Video
Cast: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin, Kevin Kline
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Cast Biographies, Production Notes

Nine years after making the vastly successful and highly acclaimed "A Fish Called Wanda", the cast has rejoined on John Cleese’s call to create yet another memorable, piercingly satirical comedy called "Fierce Creatures". John Cleese and his co-star Michael Palin were driving forces of the black humored British comedy team Monty Python as if you didn’t already know – and as such, it is not exactly surprising that "Fierce Creatures" captures and revives much of Monty Python’s gloriously subversive, anarchistic comedic spirit.

Under pressure from headquarters, an American mother company, the director of a quaint English zoo (John Cleese as Rollo Lee) is forced to make some serious decisions in order to make the business profitable and save it from closure. Lee asks himself what attracts visitors most and invents the "Fierce Animal Policy", an idea that results in a riotous revolt of the zoo staff. He orders them to get rid of the cute and cuddly creatures, claiming that people come to view the creatures that make them fear for their lives.

Of course his employees have little sympathy for the idea. They try, at all costs, to convince Rollo to keep the cute animals. They even go as far as disguising some of these sweet creatures as fierce threats, telling Rollo fictional stories about meercats, calling them "the piranhas of the desert." But nothing changes this dogmatic, desperate man’s mind. He finally orders his staff to shoot all the cute animals. When they refuse to do that, he has to do it himself.

On the other side of the ocean, the zoo’s owner has plans of his own, and sends his spoiled son Vince McCain (Kevin Kline) and marketing expert Willa Weston (Jamie Lee Curtis) to England to take care of the situation. Their plan to salvage the zoo’s profits spins out of control when Vince runs rampant and sells every inch and animal of the zoo as advertising space. Soon, the place is plastered with huge advertising banners and even the animals themselves are licensed for weird celebrity sponsorship deals. After a close encounter with one of the park’s silver backed gorillas, Willa discovers that there is much more to tending animals than cash profits. It is about giving them shelter and love as well. Teaming up with the other employees, she tries to turn the tables and save the zoo from the greedy grasp modern day commercialism.

There is probably not a single serious second in this whole movie. It is a comedy to the bone and every second of its 93 minutes is filled with gags, pranks, puns, and loads of subversive humor. The movie touches on the subject of the unrestrained expansion of modern commercial conglomerates and media tycoons, a theme producer/writer/actor John Cleese feels strongly about. This element nicely contrasts "Fierce Creatures" with most other comedies of recent years. Just like Monty Python’s anarchistic riots against social values, this comedy has something to say. It is a film about the conflict caused by different values, and nicely sidesteps melodrama and cliché. It speaks to the power of the bond between humans and animals, the responsibility we have for them, and the affinity most people have to them, noting that these things cannot simply be overturned with money or instruction. They are part of our mentality, a part of our ecological system, just as sex is another dominating facet to this movie.

The characters portrayed in this movie are marvelously dimensioned and real, despite their fancy characteristics. John Cleese is back in top shape as the barking superior with a heart and quite a few secrets underneath the hard shell. Jamie Lee Curtis is charming and beguiling in her role as the modern career woman who still needs to meet the right man. Kevin Kline is wackier than ever, an energy bundle whose steam vent goes off incessantly. Finally, Michael Palin’s charming portrayal of the timid, sincere chatterbox Adrian "Bugsy" Malone is a fine example of the actor’s extraordinary class. This ensemble is a very tight unit with inspirational chemistry.

"Fierce Creatures" looks as great as it feels. Unfortunately, the DVD contains only the film’s <$PS,pan&scan> version but the transfer is marvelously vivid. The image is solid, without any signs of noise or artifacts. The colors are lush and naturally rendered with the sharpness and fidelity that we have come to expect from Universal releases. The disc also contains the film’s theatrical trailer, and cast and crew bios, as well as rather detailed production notes.

Jerry Goldsmith, the man behind some memorable and highly acclaimed music scores, wrote the music to "Fierce Creatures". It is a light, amusing score with Goldsmith’s trademark touch that never interferes with the images in any way. The disc contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack in English and comes also fully dubbed in French and Spanish. It is also <$CC,closed captioned> in English and contains additional Spanish subtitles.

As with "A Fish Called Wanda", big parts of "Fierce Creatures" lives on the great performances of its characters and the undeniable chemistry between those people. It is a compelling, entertaining, and very funny movie that brings back memories about Monty Python’s heyday. It is an intelligent comedy with a clever script and some brilliant performances. If you want a good chuckle from a classy, stylish movie, you have to give "Fierce Creatures" a try.