Imagine Art Linkletter's Kids Say the Darnedest Things combined with the claymation of Chicken Run, and you'll have an inkling of what Creature Comforts is all about.
If you still can't quite picture it, be grateful the UK-based Aardman Animations did. Initially, the goal was to record real people speaking--ums, stutters and all--and synchronize the audio track to stop-frame figures. Then Nick Parks (creator of Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit) had a brilliant idea. Instead of human beings, why not to use animals? Inspired by silly tidbits in the dialogue, the studio put their clever minds to work placing the casual conversations into entirely different contexts. The end result was hilarious.
Their first attempt combined comments from caged-up nursing home residents with images of zoo animals. Prominently placing an interviewer's microphone in each shot, the mockumentary played out so well that it received an Oscar in 1990 for Best Animated Short Film. (This award winner is part of the DVD extras.)
Perhaps because of the painstaking nature of such work, it was a while before Aardman decided to pursue this premise again. But when they did, it was to produce a series of nine-minute-long shorts for TV. Creature Comforts: The Complete First Season is a compilation of these thirteen little masterpieces, plus some making-of bonus features.
The studio's extra time and experience has only helped to refine their technical prowess for making caricatures in Plasticine0xAE. Combing through about 600 hours of man-on-the-street style interviews with British citizens, they have created over 150 speaking characters, each with an unique point-of-view on topics as diverse as careers, health concerns, the theory of evolution, and the existence of UFO's.
The real genius behind their humor comes from choosing the right critter to match the chatter. Some memorable ones include complaints of factory workers tired of being cooped up doing the same mundane task all day serving as voice for a hen house full of egg-layers, and the marriage of immigrants musing about adapting to a foreign way of life to images of one-eyed aliens. Then there is the dental hygienist explaining the rigors of her job, who's portrayed as a bird picking at an alligator's teeth, and the night shift of a hotel kitchen (a.k.a.-- a group of cockroaches) sharing their covert strategies for avoiding the wrath of upper management.
If that's not enough to solicit a wry grin, then watch the background details that are carefully constructed to add another layer of laughs. (My favorite is the ransacked state of the veterinarian's office behind a now calm lioness describing her medical treatment.)
Although understanding the process behind-the-scenes enhances the funniness, the exceptional puppets (as they are called by industry insiders) and sets are also a real delight. With the exception of a few vague innuendos and some mild language, most families should feel comfortable settling into the couch and having their ear bent by these oh-so-human creatures.