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Creature Comforts (1989)

Courtesy of Aardman Animations Ltd

Main image of Creature Comforts (1989)
35mm, colour, 5 mins
DirectorNick Park
Production CompanyAardman Animations
ProducerSara Mullock
PhotographyDavid Sproxton, Dave Alex Riddett, Andy MacCormack, Fred Reed
AnimatorNick Park

Zoo animals comment on the English weather, food and their living conditions.

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Discussing Creature Comforts on the eve of its television premiere, former Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam said that "the man who made this should be made God tomorrow". Following the belated completion of his student project A Grand Day Out (1989), Nick Park directed and animated his first professional film for Aardman Animation, which had employed him since his graduation from the National Film and Television School in 1985.

Its first screening marked a full decade of Aardman animations based around the notion of animating on top of pre-existing, unscripted recordings of ordinary people. These began as Animated Conversations (BBC, 1979), and continued on Channel 4 as Conversation Pieces (1983) and Lip Synch (1989), the last of which included Creature Comforts.

Conceptually and formally, there's little difference between Park's film and the earlier Aardman pieces, but what really caught the public imagination was the inspired conceit of interviewing zoo animals about their living conditions. The voices were actually drawn from the inhabitants of a housing estate, an old people's home and assorted others. Possibly the most fondly-remembered of the interviewees was the disenchanted puma, voiced by a Brazilian friend of Park's who hated living in Britain, though the polar bears (voiced by a real-life family) also had many fans.

Park's Plasticine animation was brilliantly characterised, with his subjects' facial expressions and gestures perfectly matching the source recordings. Witty background details were often as memorable as the interviews themselves, with the other animals jostling for attention, falling out of overcrowded box, expressing horror at what they're hearing, or defecating in perfect timing to a complaint about obtrusive smells. The unscripted nature of the interviews (at one point the youngest polar bear, who appears to be called Andrew, spontaneously asks if it's all right to eat the lions) beautifully counterpoints the carefully planned precision of the animation medium.

A huge international hit, Creature Comforts won Channel 4's first Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in 1991, and ranks alongside The Snowman (d. Dianne Jackson, 1982) as being the channel's single most popular and instantly recognisable animated film. It led directly to a long-running Electricity Board advertising campaign, two spin-off series (ITV, tx. 2003/5), made by Aardman with Park as executive producer, and even an awareness campaign, retitled Creature Discomforts, for Leonard Cheshire Disability. The fact that the idea needed little modification merely shows how strong it was to begin with.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Fresh meat (0:29)
Production stills
Aardman Animations
Channel 4 and Animation