Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues on the horizon, we look back on that rarest of rare commodities: the excellent comedy sequel.
Fierce Creatures (1997)
John Cleese, Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline engineered a transatlantic smash with A Fish Called Wanda, one of the funniest movies ever made. Out of that film’s success and Cleese’s desire not to cheapen it came Fierce Creatures: not technically a sequel, but a reteaming of the core Wanda players in a new story. Troupe-style comedies found greater success in the hands of Christopher Guest, Judd Apatow, and Adam McKay, but in 1997, nine years after Wanda, Creatures was more of mild curiosity. Now it’s something of a footnote—but a worthwhile one.
The movie feels like a sequel because most of the stars reprise their roles in spirit, though not name: Cleese is once again a buttoned-up conformist who gets a taste of rebellion later in life; Curtis is another cunning bombshell who falls for him; and Kline reprises his aggressive, English-hating ignoramus act. Only Palin gets a reversal: He’s still a put-upon animal lover, but instead of a stutterer who can’t get through a sentence, he plays a man who seems physically incapable of shutting up.
That’s one of several rhymes with the earlier film. Creatures responds to the hilarious cruelty of Wanda with a story about Cleese’s uptight middleman attempting to save a charming English zoo from Curtis and Kline, encroaching employees of a Rupert Murdoch-like tycoon (also Kline). If Wanda is a tightly sprung trap of a farce, Creatures is more of a pleasant amble with too many cute little zookeeper characters cluttering up the farcical works. But its critique of merger-and-acquisition capitalism remains sharp, and the actors all slip back into familiar roles with easy charm. Though it would have been neat to see everyone swap personas, the performers are too polished to raise many objections: Kline isn’t as frenzied or brilliant as he is in Wanda, but still delivers glorious displays of hostile mystification towards Cleese, the zoo, and the idea of animals in general. Palin, meanwhile, has fun playing a man who, as Kline puts it, would “rather talk than live.”
If this genteel, amusing comedy had come out in place of Wanda, it probably wouldn’t have led to a follow-up, though it might have eventually become a cult item. As a companion piece, though, it recreates some of that movie’s chemistry and avoids sullying its memory—in the end, more or less what Cleese and company intended.
Availability: Fierce Creatures is available for purchase or rental from the usual outlets. A warning: the often bargain-priced DVD’s non-anamorphic widescreen will result in windowboxing on most flatscreen TVs.