A Year in Shorts Day 320: "Creature Comforts"
While last month we finished our coverage of the Wallace and Gromit series, we were not finished with Aardman Animations. To do that, we need to go back to the beginning- of their Oscar success anyway. For in the year A Grand Day Out was nominated for Best Animated Short, the actual award itself went to another Nick Park film for Aardman- the 1989 short, Creature Comforts.
In many ways, Creature Comforts is somewhat unique amongst Nick Park's filmography. Produced as part of a British TV series called Lip Synch, Creature Comforts lacks the action scenes, witty dialogue and elaborate animation that would come to define his style. Instead, the film is a mockumentary, parodying the "man on the street" interviews which were popular at the time by showing a series of fake interviews with zoo animals. That on its own is already a very clever conceit, and one could see a good short being made out of it. But Park takes it a step further, by taking the short's audio from real interviews with people (such as a family running a local shop or a homesick Brazilian student), asking about both their own living conditions and conditions of animals at the zoo. These clips were then animated with the various animals serving as the mouthpiece for them, leading to a short that's in turns silly, heartwarming and even a little bit sad at times. It certainly provides a more nuanced take on zoos than you see in most media, and I suppose, by extension, a nuanced take on life itself. So while it may not contain a lot of the usual Aardman trademarks, it nevertheless contains the same charm and heart that defines their style.
Most importantly, the film still has that high quality, state-of-the-art animation you've come to expect. Whereas A Grand Day Out's animation was a bit rough at times (no shame in that, of course), the animation in Creature Comforts is considerably more polished. The characters are remarkably expressive, especially the homesick panther, and there's no stiffness in their movement. Admittedly, this might be because there's not a lot of movement to focus on in general, but that's just a smart use of resources if you ask me. Park and his team were able to focus all their efforts onto the character animation, which perfectly complements the charm found in the audio footage. And the film is still filled with humorous and silly background gags, which just makes the film even more entertaining.
Creature Comforts was a massive success, leading to a popular series of advertisements and a significantly less popular television series on Comedy Central. The one-two punch of Creature Comforts and A Grand Day Out being released in the same year put both Aardman and Nick Park on the map, gaining serious attention from both awards bodies and international audiences. It's important to note that A Grand Day Out and Creature Comforts were Park's first two directorial efforts, making his dual nominations all the more impressive. But watching both films, it just makes sense. How could they not nominate him? It was an auspicious debut for an extraordinary talent, and one that couldn't be ignored. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about Creature Comforts is that things would only get bigger and better from there.
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