ⓘ Creature Comforts
Creature Comforts is a British stop motion clay animation comedy mockumentary franchise originating in a 1989 British humorous animated short film of the same name. The film matched animated zoo animals with a soundtrack of people talking about their homes, making it appear as if the animals were being interviewed about their living conditions. It was created by Nick Park and Aardman Animations. The film later became the basis of a series of television advertisements for the electricity boards in the United Kingdom, and in 2003, a television series in the same style was released. An American version of the series was also made.
1. The original film
The original Creature Comforts short film was five minutes long and was conceived and directed by Nick Park and produced by Aardman Animations, featuring the voices of British non actors in the same vein as the "man on the street" Vox Pop interviews. It was produced as part of a series called Lip Synch for Channel 4. The film won Nick Park the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1990.
The film shows various animals in a zoo being interviewed about their living conditions. These include a depressed gorilla, a Brazilian puma and a young hippopotamus who complain about the cold weather, the poor quality of their enclosures and the lack of space and freedom.
By contrast, a tarsier and an armadillo praise their enclosures for the comfort and security they bring, and a family of polar bears talk about both the advantages and disadvantages of zoos for the welfare of animals. Rather than the subject being one-sided or biased towards one viewpoint, there is a strong balance of opinions in the film, with some interviewees who are happy with their living situation, some who are not, and some who have a neutral opinion.
The voices of each character were performed by residents of both a housing estate and an old peoples home. Stop motion animation was then used to animate each character, and the answers given in the interviews were put in the context of zoo animals. The polar bears were voiced by a family who owned a local shop, while the mountain lion was voiced by a Brazilian student who was living in the United Kingdom, but missed his home country.
2. The advertisements
In 1990, Nick Park worked with Phil Rylance and Paul Cardwell to develop a series of British television advertisements for the electricity boards "Heat Electric" campaign. The creative team of advertising agency GGK had seen the original Creature Comforts film and were hugely impressed by it.
They were convinced that a series of short films modelled on the original film would be ideally suited to television advertising – as long as the advertising was handled with sufficient sensitivity to preserve the integrity and charm of Parks work. The initial result of their collaboration was three thirty second Creature Comforts advertisements, made in the same style as the original film. This led to a series.
Although there had been a tradition of vox pop advertisements going back to the soap powder adverts of the 1960s, the Creature Comforts series was distinctive in its juxtaposition of real life dialogue and animated creatures. The series featured a variety of endearing plasticine animals, including a tortoise, a cat, a family of penguins and a Brazilian parrot. The characters were seen in their own domestic settings, chatting to an unseen interviewer behind a large microphone.
The characters dialogue was obtained by taking tape recordings of everyday people talking about the comfort and benefits of the electrical appliances in their homes and then using extracts of these – complete with pauses, false starts, repetitions, hesitations and unscripted use of language such as "easily turn off and on able". The selected interviewees spoke in a range of down to earth regional accents, and the overall effect was of natural conversation. The adverts warm and cosy tone reflected the warmth and homeliness of central heating.
There was a certain charm about the animations, with their quirky humour and sharpness of observation – such as in the antics of the non speaking characters and in the odd little things happening in the background. The animations had an unusual expressiveness, with the wit often coming from tiny nuances – such as a dog scratching his ear at a particular moment.
The characterisation was strengthened by having each voice carefully matched to a suitable animal in a combination that would produce a memorable impact. These features were rounded off by a gentle closing voiceover spoken by Johnny Morris. Morris appealed especially to older audiences, who would remember him and his animal conversations on the television programme Animal Magic.
The campaign was a great success and its run was extended over three years. The advertisements received critical acclaim within the advertising industry – with Park, Rylance and Cardwell picking up many top creative awards in Europe and America, including "Best Commercial of the Year" in the 1991 British Television Advertising Awards and "Most Outstanding European Campaign" in the 1991 D&AD Europe Awards. In fact, Creature Comforts was subsequently voted by media professionals in leading trade outlets Marketing and Brand Republic as one of the top television advertisements of the last fifty years.
As well as attaining a very high level of viewer recall, the advertisements were much loved – particularly the ones involving Frank the tortoise, Carol the cat and Pablo the parrot. In awarding them a place in The 100 best British ads of the century, the United Kingdoms leading advertising journal Campaign commented "The power of a campaign which can make consumers feel warm towards a utility cannot be underestimated".
The many popular awards won by the Creature Comforts advertisements included being voted fourth in the all time 100 Greatest TV Ads by readers of The Sunday Times and viewers of Channel 4 in April 2000. Their position among the classic advertisements of British television was confirmed when Creature Comforts was voted fourth in ITV’s Best Ever Adverts by viewers of ITV in 2005. Finally, in a YouGov survey during 2006, Creature Comforts topped the list of the United Kingdoms alltime favourite animated or puppet characters used in adverts.
The Creature Comforts advertisements have now attained a place in popular culture, and are probably better remembered than the original film that spawned them. However, it is claimed that many members of the public mistakenly remember the commercials as advertising gas heating, the main competitor to electricity.
2.1. The advertisements Influences
The Creature Comforts advertisements were produced in the period 1990 to 1992 and in some ways they were indicative of the shape of things to come in British television advertising. Many commentators believe that there was a fundamental shift in television advertising from the unbridled consumerism and egoism of the 1980s to what is sometimes termed a more "caring" approach in the 1990s. The Creature Comforts advertisements are cited as an early example of this phenomenon.
The format of the Creature Comforts advertisements was so successful that it was replicated in other campaigns in the following decades. In later years, however, members of the public became increasingly conscious of the potential uses of their vox pop interviews. This made it difficult to recapture the spontaneity and innocence of the early Creature Comforts advertisements. Although lookalike animations became relatively commonplace in television advertisements, they were usually scripted and rarely possessed the painstaking attention to detail of the original advertisements.
3. The series
In 2003, a series of Creature Comforts films directed by Richard Goleszowski was made for British television network ITV by Aardman Animations. The series has since aired as repeats on Comedy Central, usually late at night. Starting in 2005, it has also aired in Australia on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in The Netherlands on Veronica, on pay television channel US TV, and on the Internet, as well as on the Aardman Animations YouTube Channel.
A thirty-minute special in which the regular characters attempt to perform and interpret the Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was first aired on 25 December 2005. The special was broadcast in Canada on the CBC on 26 December 2005.
Humour pervades all aspects of the series, for example:
- A highly philosophical speech given by an amoeba.
- Animals being scared of their own habitat
- An alligator praising her neighbourhood, the sewer.
- A lab mouse being interviewed while another mouse with a human ear on his back walks by.
- Grey aliens blinking in unison.
- Background details such as
- Insects swarming into a gap in the paving stones when a slug mimics a bird call.
The series gently mocks the constructed performance sometimes given by members of the general public when being interviewed for television vox pops and documentaries. This includes the attempts to present a cogent but simple conclusive answer to a general question, a sound bite, and the attempts to present a cheery spin on a complex issue while the subject attempts to hide their personal issues and problems with the issue.
The series was recently repeated on Gold.
4. Regular characters
The following characters are among those who make regular appearances throughout the series. These animals are always portrayed by the same interviewees to maintain consistency throughout the series.
4.1. Regular characters Introduced in Series 1
- Dennis – a dung beetle who pushes a ball of dung while walking backwards.
- Sid and Nancy – two rats who live in a garden shed.
- Chappie – an old horse.
- The Rudges – a family of sea anemones voiced by the same family as the polar bears in the original Creature Comforts short.
- Frank – an elderly tortoise who originally appeared in the Heat Electric television adverts.
- Clement – an old bloodhound who talks about his past life experiences.
- Fluffy – a cynical, cage bound hamster from Catford.
- Sue and Lorraine – two walruses who sit on an iceberg.
- Sapphire – a teenage dolphin who lives in an aquarium.
- Brian – an amoeba seen through a microscope. Despite being an extremely primitive life form, Brian has a highly philosophical view on life and talks about complex science. Unlike other characters in the series, Brian is a CGI animated character.
- Gary and Nigel – two garden slugs who mostly talk about plants and gardening. One of them is accompanied by his young daughter in one episode.
- Anthony – a mysophobic pig.
- Spanner and Trousers – two stray dogs who sit in a skip.
- Trixie and Captain Cuddlepuss – Trixie is a dog and Captain Cuddlepuss is a cat. They sit on a red sofa and frequently argue about trivial things. They are the most recurring regular characters in the series.
- Dave – a laid-back earthworm who lives with his mother.
- Megan and Gladys – two Welsh seagulls who stand on a landfill site.
- Pickles – an optimistic Labrador who works as a guide dog for a blind man. She is often seen sitting by her owners side, but the mans face is never shown on screen.
- Stan and Ted – two baby birds who live in a nest.
- Muzulu and Toto – two monkeys. In the first series, Muzulu and Toto are shown as performing monkeys sitting in a cage and wearing matching pink and blue outfits, but in the second series they are shown without their outfits and living in a forest with other wild monkeys.
4.2. Regular characters Introduced in Series 2
- Behzad – an Arabian horse who has several different jobs, including a police horse, a member of the Queens Guard at Buckingham Palace, and a faux Christmas reindeer.
- Derek – An elderly Shar Pei with a Welsh accent. He sits next to a small Shar Pei puppy who does not speak.
- Black - a black pig with a yellow Rfid on her left ear
- Rocky - a black rooster who speaks before it is ready to crow and wake up the farm.
- Victor – a mouse who speaks in a thick Geordie accent and lives in a doll house.
- Fifi and Apolo House Poodles
- Brian and Keith – two Bull Terriers who are brothers.
- Muriel and Catherine – a pair of elderly bats who roost in a belfry.
- Audrey and Seymour Dachshunds
5. American version
Starting June 2007, CBS planned to broadcast seven episodes of an Americanized version of the show, featuring ordinary American people providing the voices, in the same vein as the British original. The series was titled Creature Comforts and was seen Monday nights at 8PM ET/PT from 4 to 18 June 2007 only three episodes were broadcast due to low ratings, and was replaced with reruns of The New Adventures Of Old Christine; the series was also simulcast in Canada on the CH system. It was the first adult animated series produced for CBS since Wheres Huddles?. and.Fish Police.
CBS also created a web presence with the help of the Creature Comforts staff. A behind the scenes collaborative account/blog of each episode was posted, in conjunction with the three short lived airings. The American version was co produced by Aardman Animations and The Gotham Group.
Seven episodes of this series were produced. However, the series ran for only three episodes, before being cancelled by CBS due to low ratings. Its remaining episodes were later premiered on Animal Planet in 2008 see below. A standard DVD of the shows seven episodes was released on 9 October 2007 by Sony, now entitled Creature Comforts America. Currently, there is no Blu-ray version, even though the show was mastered in 1080 HD 16x9.
On 8 February 2008, the show won an Annie Award for "Best Animated Television Production" of 2007. In Australia, public broadcaster ABC Television began airing the American season in Australia on 18 February 2008, having aired the original British version since its inception on both ABC1 and the digital only ABC2.
On 24 April 2008, Animal Planet picked up the first season of the American version. It was broadcast in both SD letterbox and native HD formats. Episodes 1&2 premiered on 24 April, Episodes 3&4 premiered on 1 May, and Episodes 5&6 premiered on 9 May. Creature Comforts was nominated for an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Animated Program For Programming Less Than One Hour" but on 13 September 2008, it lost out to The Simpsons. Teresa Drilling, one of the shows many animators, won an individual Emmy Award for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation".
5.1. American version American version staff
- Story Editors: Chad Carter, June Raphael, Casey Wilson
- Executive Producers: Kit Boss, Miles Bullough, Peter McHugh, David Sproxton, Peter Lord, Nick Park
- Producers: Kenny Micka, Gareth Owen
- Directors: David Osmand, Merlin Crossingham
- Writers: Kit Boss, Chad Carter, Michael Dougan, Ben Stout, June Raphael, Casey Wilson
6. Creature Discomforts
A series of four adverts highlighting disability and featuring the voices of disabled people telling of their experiences premiered on ITV on Christmas Day 2007. Four more ads featuring new characters debuted in Summer 2008.