UK / 1989
Creature Comforts is a brilliant and hilarious short which richly deserved to win the 1990 Oscar for best short film. Since then the film has unfortunately suffered, like Pizza Express and Star Wars, from over commercialisation and franchise-ation, whereby the idea has been exploited to the point that some tend to just remember the lower grade re-hashings rather than the genius of the original.
Aardman‘s founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton had some early exposure with a clay character called Morph for BBC kids series Vision On and creating animation for the multi award winning, imaginative and iconic stop frame music video for Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ but like a lot of British animators, and indeed the UK animation industry as a whole, it was with the creation of TV network Channel 4 in the 1980s that allowed them to flourish.
In Channel 4’s formative years the executives had decided to make animation a big part of their cutting edge new network and visited the newly revived Cambridge animation festival, where they were Impressed with some films Aardman had made for the BBC in the preceding years called Animated Conversations.
In these pieces real dialogue was recorded documentary style and to this soundtrack Sproxton created animated stop frame characters in incongruous settings. In Down and Out for instance (1979) the sound was recorded in a Salvation Army hostel for the homeless. Although not a new idea, for instance John Nad Faith Hubley’s Moon Bird (1959) pioneered this technique, it was under explored and Lord and Sproxton created their own mini genre of stop frame animated pseudo documentary, a kind of clay reality TV before reality TV was even invented.
Channel 4 execs, impressed with Animated Conversations commissioned some series of films from Aardman in a similar style entitled Conversation Pieces and then Lip Synch. One of the Lip Synch films was Creature Comforts (1989) directed by Aardman’s new director Nick Park.
In the short, the quality of Aardman’s stop frame animation seemed to take a leap forward and move to the forefront of its genre, and this was several years before Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, for example. In the film we see a series of zoo animals being ‘interviewed’ vox-pop style about their cages and conditions. The most memorable for me was the brilliantly animated Brazilian puma languidly lying in his tree and bemoaning the lack of space and the quantity of meat on offer. Other highlights are the family of polar bears taking about the pros and cons of the zoo in terms of welfare and an armadillo who is enjoying the comfort its cage brings. In reality the audio interviews were real people from the neighborhood talking about their surroundings, for instance the polar bears were a family of local shopkeepers and the puma was a homesick Brazilian student.
Creature Comforts was turned into a series of TV ads for Heat Electric, a UK TV series directed by Richard Starzak and a US series directed by Merlin Crossingham and David Osmond. All were good, but by the law of diminishing returns they moved increasingly away from the charm of the original. Nick Park became Aardman’s star director and, with his characters Wallace and Gromit, the company translated the critical success of Creature Comforts into commercial success with a series of much loved and celebrated films. Park’s eccentric English inventor and his long suffering dog featured in A Grand Day Out (1989) , The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995), A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008) and Park’s masterwork, the Dreamworks funded feature film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).
You can learn more about Lip Synch and the production of Creature Comforts in our interview with directors Nick Park and Peter Lord.
Note: The 100 greatest animated shorts is a list of opinions and not an order of value from best to worst. Click here to see all of the picks of the list so far. All suggestions, comments and outrage are welcome!