Why 'Fierce Creatures' Fans Should Check Out 'A Fish Called Wanda'

In A Fish Called Wanda, the British and American comedy gulf was filled, making it one of the most popular comedies of all time. River Phoenix rose up and cheered after he was defeated by Kevin Kline at the 1989 Academy Awards, as did the critics and the crowd, who were said to have died of laughter. Its impact was so enormous that the four stars who partnered on a follow-up effort couldn't win. Although genetically distinct from its siblings, Fierce Creatures could never be considered an independent entity, and as a result, its qualities were unnoticed.

Among the stars of Fierce Creatures are John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michael Palin. One of the most common villains in '80s and '90s films is Octopus Inc., a huge evil company that controls the lives of most of the film's key characters. What started as a failing zoo in England is now a flagship attraction for a franchise that includes Rollo Lee (Cleese), the former police officer-turned-director; Vince (Kline), the loathsome manchild heir to Octopus boss Rod McCain (also Kline); and Willa Weston (Curtis), who is assigned to turn the place around. One of the zoo's animal caretakers, Bugsy (Palin), is a vocal opponent of the corporate barbarism he sees around him. Their different outlooks on life are shaped by how much they enjoy (or don't love) their jobs.

Fierce Creatures, like any John Cleese production, presents a scathing critique of some parts of society, this time focusing on commercialism and the overriding importance of profit. It's clear that Rollo has been tasked with turning the zoo around, but instead of meeting his new colleagues one-on-one, the exec makes a formal presentation (with with visual aids) outlining earnings objectives, percentages, and his great plan to do so: ferocious animals. In an attempt to persuade him of the risks that the smaller animals offer, the zoo's keepers resort to amusingly severe tactics in order to convince him otherwise. Everyone wants the zoo to stay open and, if possible, succeed.

Under Vince's leadership, the company's strategies for achieving its objectives deteriorate rapidly. First, like a Formula One driver, the keepers' khaki uniforms are patchworked with brightly colored sponsorship insignia. Later, the uniforms are completely replaced with animal fancy dress, with the ladies donning leotards and headpieces and the males donning pot-bellied penguin suits. Big crude ads cover every square inch of the zoo. Tigers wear Smirnoff Vodka jackets. Bruce Springsteen has sponsored a tortoise. Animated animals are even installed in the cages by Vince. Overall, he simply cares about meeting his father's minimal expectations so that he may inherit a large sum of money and then steal some more. As far as I'm concerned, animal welfare and customer pleasure are secondary considerations.

ferocious beasts jessica curtis is the name of the actress All images are copyrighted by Universal Pictures
Vince's dislikeability and ensuing feud with Rollo are critical to the film's success. He is self-centered, sexist, and self-assured in his sexual skills, all of which contribute to his overall lack of self-confidence. So, when Willa and Rollo's chemistry is clear, he can't bear the thought of being passed over in favor of someone he considers "strange and repulsive". Rollo and Vince have a recurring joke in which Rollo gives the idea that he has wild orgies with female caretakers (and occasionally even the animals) and Vince takes this as a personal assault to his manhood, moaning, "How does he get three girls?!?" Where did the third one go? Otto-like sociopathy and terrific physical delivery are Kline's trademarks in this Otto character, which he effortlessly slips back into. Kline takes on the task of keeping a character this unlikable and amusing, and he succeeds.

The movie hits a snag when it comes to Willa's love aspirations. Both Cleese and Kline flirt with Wanda, but she never quite commits to any of them. Randomly, she'll ramp up the charm when it's appropriate for her to be irritated by the males around her. Then when they genuinely earn her attention, she is aloof with them. An genuine conclusion, in which the two guys momentarily hash out their disagreements, would be a welcome addition to the love triangle. When it is recommended that Vince walk away with the billions of dollars his father left behind and let Rollo to be with Willa, the rivalry dissolves almost instantly. The protagonists, despite their vast differences and contentious connections, join in a shared cause and depart pleased in their own ways in this short conversation.

An entertaining climax to the narrative is provided by the film's denouement, although one that isn't completely plausible. Rod Almighty, Vince's father, arrives to the zoo to dismiss him in person before the cops arrive since he has been stealing money from the zoo. After a freak accident leaves Rod dead and the others scrambling to clean it up, they realize that the police are just minutes away. A highly improbable switcheroo, in which they disguise Vince as his father using cotton wool and flea spray, and he is forced to improvise his way out of difficulty, ensues. His play ends in a staged suicide that would explain away the dead corpse; it’s all quite cunning and hilarious, except for the three uniformed coppers who simply stand about exchanging looks as Vince repeatedly states his plans to end it and locks himself in a tool shed. He says, "Sorry, we didn't realize," when they eventually break in and find the genuine dead corpse. The Naked Gun's several face-palming clips are here.

picture of ferocious animals

All images are copyrighted by Universal Pictures
Of course, the facts of the issue are ignored: wouldn't a little inspection reveal the difference between the wound and the angle of attack?... Would the cops face disciplinary action for failing to intervene in a suicide attempt? An autopsy would be unable to identify these additional injuries given the tumbling, pressing and tugging on Rod's body. Suspension of disbelief is required for this film, in the great tradition of Monty Python's Flying Circus and the like. Even Wanda needed this to some extent: George's violent courtroom outburst, Otto's survival of being steamrolled, and finding parking at Heathrow airport's front door.

Some of the material is childish and fails to connect. It's one of Rod's minor idiosyncrasies that after he stops talking, he burps or farts. Cleese's scripts are known for being high-brow and sophisticated, but this one seems to be a touch too low-brow for the Cleese brand. Similarly, Rollo's uncontrollable need for Willa leads to a slew of Freudian errors that would make any schoolboy scream, most of which are on breasts and nuts. In the face of Vince's antics and the caustic interjections of some of the keepers, notably Palin as Bugsy and Robert Lindsay as Lotterby, they may be forgiven." Palin, who has previously played roles like the Ex-Leper from Life of Brian and the Yorkshire protestant from The Meaning of Life, is the highly informed contrarian who is constantly lurking in the shadows, waiting to burst out and lecture Rollo about his cynical business techniques. When it comes to the Piranhas of the Desert, Lotterby, the cantankerous cockney, is the genius behind the numerous ruses. He even sends out a dire warning about the capacity of meerkats to strip a human cadaver bare.

The zoo's whole cast, in fact, enhances the impact of Rod's ruthless attitude and Vince's selfishness by rounding out the environment of the zoo. As a result, the audience is able to predict their particular responses to various situations. Despite his little stature, Reggie (Ronnie Corbett) is an exuberant sea lion keeper; Pip (Cynthia Cleese) cares for tiny animals and often carries a cuddly creature; and Cub (Bond girl Carey Lowell) quickly succumbs to Rollo's emotional blackmail. Wanda star Maria Aitken is Rollo's overbearing secretary, as seen in her role as Wendy. The leads have a lot of fun playing off of the different staff members, and they're given a lot of wonderful material to work with.

a film about violent monsters Jamie Lee Curtis Photograph All images are copyrighted by Universal Pictures
In the end, a picture, even with John Cleese at the helm, is a collection of many moving parts. Charles Crichton, an Ealing Studios icon who directed masterpieces including The Lavender Hill Mob, directed Wanda. When reshoots were needed, TV director Robert Young couldn't be found, so Fred Schepisi of Roxanne and Mr. Baseball fame stepped in. Fierce Creatures suffers from a lack of coherence and linearity. Even though it's absurd, the denouement, crafted by Schepisi, is the most funny element of the film, and it provides a satisfying climax to an otherwise sluggish narrative.

There's no way A Fish Called Wanda compares to Fierce Creatures. But if you take away everything else that made Wanda great, you're left with just four outstanding comedy performers. As demonstrated by Wanda's 1988 talk show appearances, these two had known each other for a long time. Cleese Curtis Kline & Palin give the script the heart and chemistry it needs, even when the script stumbles. It's not as well-written and directed as Wanda, and it doesn't quite capture the spirit of the time or culture in which it was made, but it does have a home-run feel to it that's full of enthusiasm and good times. Like an old Monty Python film or television special, it's not the best the gang has done, but it's still fun to watch.