Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Extras: Documentaries, "Favorite Bits", Original "Creature Comforts" Short, Trailers
The recent successes of "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" and the "Wallace & Gromit" feature film suggest a potential renaissance of the lost art of stop-motion animation. Add to the mix Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's recent DVD release of "Creature Comforts: The Complete First Season" and the argument just might hold water.
"Creature Comforts: The Complete First Season" began as a hysterical 1990 animated short subject that eventually won an Oscar. Directed by Nick Park for Aardman Animations of London, animals in a zoo are "interviewed" and describe their plight/situation with subtlety, understatement and plenty of British irony, brought to life with Park's unique frame-by-frame manipulation of plasticene (a type of clay) models.
After several shorts (and Oscars) featuring that profound duo Wallace & Gromit and the 2000 theatrical film "Chicken Run," Park returned to the animal interview concept in 2003, creating thirteen shorts, running approximately 9 minutes each for airing on British television. (Some episodes were eventually aired on Comedy Central.) What the original "Creature Comforts" did for zoos, "Creature Comforts The Series" does for the circus, the pet shop, the garden, extraterrestrials, the beach, even the Christmas holidays.
The wit and understatement that infused the original theatrical short are in ample abundance in the TV series. A human hand holding a microphone captures the thoughts, dreams, aspirations and exasperations of "fauna mundi" wherever they might be. Circus dogs express their low opinions of clowns, one walrus waxes eloquent about the lure of the sea, while her partner voices absolute disdain for the water. The vignettes range from the mildly humorous to the truly hysterical, and I found "The Pet Shop" and "Is Anyone Out There?" particularly funny.
In abundance are the visual "asides" that are the hallmark of Park and Aardman Animations, as in "The Circus," where the mic hand shakes ever so slightly and chair legs intrude in the frame when interviewing the lion!
The "Creature Comforts: The Complete First Season" DVD presents all thirteen episodes in anamorphic widescreen. Colors are solid and rich, with exceptional detail in the image. The source elements are pristine. With a complete absence of artifacts, solid blacks and eye-popping hues, the picture is about as perfect as the format allows.
The Dolby Digital audio works well enough, but don't expect window-shattering sound. Presented in 2-channel stereo, there's some spaciousness in the outdoor scenes, but the main thing here is that the dialogue comes through clean and clear.
The supplements include the original "Creature Comforts" short from 1990, presented in anamorphic widescreen and two-channel mono sound. The picture here isn't nearly as pristine as the episodes, with grain everpresent and the image a tad on the soft side. The sound is tinny, but I'm guessing that's intentional, sounding more documentary-like. I wouldn't be so picky about the visual presentation here, if it weren't for the main program looking so darn good.
Behind the scenes peeks include a five-minute primer "Bringing Creature Comforts to Life" and "Creating Creature Comforts:Behind The Scenes" which runs almost half an hour and was probably created to help promote the show. Creator Nick Park is interviewed, along with director Richard "Golly" Goleszowski and several technicians. Finally, the ten-minute "Favorite Bits" features Golly deconstructing several scenes as to why they're so funny and what they did in create the necessary mood. Four trailers for an odd cross-section of SPHE product, including "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "Seinfeld Season Four" round out the goodies.
Watching "Creature Comforts," it's very easy to see what made stop-motion animation so magical and compelling. In a word, charm. Treat yourself and give this DVD a spin.