Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Young
|Produced by||Michael Shamberg
|Written by||John Cleese
Jamie Lee Curtis
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Edited by||Robert Gibson|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Release date(s)||January 24, 1997 (US)
February 14, 1997 (UK)
|Running time||93 min.|
Fierce Creatures is a 1997 farcical comedy film. While not a direct sequel, Fierce Creatures is something of a spiritual successor to the 1988 film A Fish Called Wanda. Both films star John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin. Fierce Creatures was written by John Cleese, and directed by Robert Young and Fred Schepisi.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (February 2014)|
The film opens with Willa Weston (Jamie Lee Curtis) arriving in Atlanta to take a high ranking position in a company recently acquired by Octopus Inc.'s owner, Rod McCain (Kevin Kline). After meeting his son, vice president of marketing Vince McCain (also played by Kline), and Rod's assistant Neville, Willa is told by McCain that he has already sold the company where she was to work. Now without a job, Willa agrees to run another recent acquisition, Marwood Zoo, in an attempt to create a business model that can be used for multiple zoos in the future.
The newly appointed director of the zoo is a retired Hong Kong Police Force officer and former Octopus Television employee, Rollo Lee (John Cleese). In order to meet Octopus's revenue target of 20% from all assets, Lee institutes a "fierce creatures" theme, assuming that exhibits of dangerous animals and emphasis on violence will attract more visitors. All animals not meeting those requirements must go. All the animal keepers, including spider-handler Bugsy (Michael Palin), protest the policy and make various attempts to get Rollo to change his mind. One attempt sees them place five cute animals in front of Rollo and tell him that, as they cannot be placed at other zoos or returned to the wild, they have to be exterminated. They further tell him that, as they are very fond of the animals, Rollo must shoot them himself. Amused by their success, they are horrified when they hear five shots, and find Rollo leaving five recently dug graves. It soon transpires that Rollo didn't actually kill the animals, but has merely hidden them in his bedroom, where they cause chaos. When the animals interrupt a phone-call from Vince and Willa, the two Americans become convinced Rollo is having orgies with at least three female members of staff.
When Vince attempts to sleep with Willa, she rebuffs his advances while pretending she would like to spend more time with him. To her horror, Vince reveals that he is going to run the zoo, a decision of which Neville and Rod are wary; Vince spent time in prison for forgery. The two new executives arrive as the conflict between Rollo and the zoo-keepers comes to a head; Rollo discovers that several have faked horrific injuries, claiming they're the result of animal attacks. Rollo proceeds to fire several warning shots at those responsible, and another keeper becomes convinced that he has just shot one of them. Rollo then finds a visitor has had a genuine accident but, not believing it is real, tastes the blood of the visitor whilst loudly proclaiming that it is fake. This fiasco sees Rollo demoted to middle management, although Vince threatens to fire him if his apparent activities with female staff do not cease.
The new arrangement at the zoo does not please any of the keepers; Vince covers zoo and animals alike with advertisements after secretly garnering sponsorships, dresses the staff in ridiculous outfits and installs an artificial Panda in one the enclosures. His continued attempts to seduce Willa fail, while she comes to enjoy working at the zoo, after having a close encounter with a silverback gorilla. She finds herself attracted to Rollo after becoming fascinated by his apparent ability to attract multiple women. When Rollo attempts to have a discussion about Vince's marketing plan, she suggests they have dinner, although she is forced to delay when she remembers Rod is coming from Atlanta to discuss the running of the zoo.
Worried that the visit may be part of a plan to close the zoo, Rollo and the zookeepers quickly bug Rod's hotel room to find out. The plan goes wrong when Rollo, Bugsy and a female zoo-keeper are trapped in Rod's room and forced to take cover in the wardrobe. The situation gets worse when Bugsy discovers that his harmless, but frightening, pet tarantula has escaped. While Rollo and the other keeper remove their clothes to find the tarantula, Vince and Rod have a worrying conversation: Rod wants to turn over the zoo to the Japanese to make a golf-course and is not intending to die, instead being cryogenically frozen when he becomes ill until a cure can be found. When Willa comes to the room she, Vince and Rod leave; only for Willa to return to collect her bag and find Rollo partially naked and out of breath in Rod's room, along with two female staff (one partially naked) and a sheep next door.
The next day, Willa discovers Vince has stolen from the sponsorship money he had raised, preventing the zoo hitting the required profit margin. Willa warns Vince that if he doesn't return the money she will tell Rod. When Rollo attempts to work out how the theft can be traced to buy them time from Rod and Neville, he and Willa finally kiss, just as Vince arrives to return the money. A confrontation takes place first at the zoo office, and then outside as Willa, Rollo, Bugsy and several others attempt to stop Vince from running off with the money in a bag. Bugsy refuses to shut up, so Vince loses his temper and grabs a Beretta pistol from the management office. Rod arrives just as Vince is being subdued and announces the police are on their way to arrest Vince for stealing. Vince tries and fails to shoot his father, but when Bugsy takes the pistol it accidentally goes off, shooting Rod between the eyes.
In the panic that follows, a plan emerges to fool Neville and the arriving police. The keepers work together to dress Vince up as Rod, since he can imitate his father's accent fairly well. When the police and Neville arrive, Vince (as Rod) tells them that he has re-written Rod's will, specifying that the zoo will become a trust of the caretakers while Vince will inherit everything else, and he wants all of them to be witnesses. After signing the new will, Vince locks himself in a caretaker hut where he feigns Rod's suicide. Although Neville becomes suspicious, he is left dumbstruck when he discovers the dead body of his boss in the hut (and Vince promptly fires him before he can recover).
Now free, the zookeepers destroy the evidence of McCain's ownership. Vince becomes the new CEO of Octopus, while Willa and Rollo begin a new life together while continuing to run the zoo.
- John Cleese as Rollo Lee
- Jamie Lee Curtis as Willa Weston
- Kevin Kline as Rod McCain/Vince McCain
- Michael Palin as Adrian 'Bugsy' Malone
- Robert Lindsay as Sydney Lotterby
- Ronnie Corbett as Reggie Sea Lions
- Carey Lowell as Cub Felines
- Bille Brown as Neville
- Derek Griffiths as Garry Ungulates
- Cynthia Cleese as Pip Small Mammals
- Richard Ridings as Hugh Primates
- Maria Aitken as Di Harding
- Jack Davenport as Student Zoo Keeper
Cleese began writing the script in 1992 and shooting began on 15 May 1995. It completed in August and the film was previewed in November of that year. Preview audiences expressed dissatisfaction with the ending, and in February 1996 the decision was made to reshoot the ending and some other sequences. These additional scenes could not be shot until August 1996 because of the availability of the cast, in particular Michael Palin who was making Full Circle. In the meantime, Cleese and Johnstone worked on a new ending with William Goldman. The delay meant that director Robert Young was busy on pre production for Jane Eyre so Cleese hired Fred Schepisi, with whom he had been discussing making a version of Don Quixote. The reshoots took five weeks and cost $7 million.
Schepisi claims he tried to get the producers take out the opening 15 minutes, which was done for a test screening, but then some of this footage was put back in, which Schepisi thought killed the movie.
Concordance with A Fish Called Wanda
The novelization of the film, written by Iain Johnstone, begins with a letter, written by Archie Leach (Cleese's character in Wanda) to Rollo, revealing that they are actually brothers; Rollo changed his surname from "Leach" to "Lee" in order to improve his chances of advancement within the Hong Kong police.
The main four actors have roles here that display similar dynamics to their roles in A Fish Called Wanda: John Cleese's character is the morally upright straight-man, Jamie Lee Curtis's character starts out morally grey but ends up romantically linked to John Cleese's character, Kevin Kline is the dense antagonist of the film's plot, and Michael Palin's character provides an active supporting role to the main events. Michael Palin's character in Fierce Creatures, however, is a chatterbox that is difficult to keep quiet, the opposite of his personality in A Fish Called Wanda, where he was a stutterer unable to say anything easily.
Various small gestures throughout the film recall Wanda. In one scene, a keeper tells Rollo that Willa liked him. When Rollo reacts in surprise, Bugsy explains to him that the pheromones he releases into the air attract her. Rollo sniffs his armpit as if to check on how he smelt, a gesture performed by Kevin Kline as Otto in "Wanda". Also in a throwback gesture, in A Fish Called Wanda there was a fish named after Jamie Lee Curtis' character; in Fierce Creatures there is a Ring-tailed Lemur named after Cleese's character. In the final scene John Cleese also "accidentally" calls Jamie Lee Curtis' character "Wanda" instead of Willa.
Supporting actors from A Fish Called Wanda returning for Fierce Creatures include Maria Aitken (wife of Cleese's character in A Fish Called Wanda), his assistant in Fierce Creatures, Cynthia Cleese (daughter of Cleese's character in A Fish Called Wanda and Pip Small Mammals in Fierce Creatures), and Michael Percival (a barrister in A Fish Called Wanda and an antkeeper in Fierce Creatures). Tom Georgeson, who played George Thomason in "Wanda", also made a brief cameo as a zoo visitor watching the sealion display.
John Cleese explained in a David Letterman appearance he didn't want to make a sequel to A Fish Called Wanda because of the expectations and how often sequels are inferior to the original. He points out Aliens and The Godfather, Part II as rare examples of sequels surpassing the originals.
For a time the working title of Fierce Creatures was Death Fish II. In Poland the film was released under the title “Lemur zwany Rollo” which literally means “A Lemur Called Rollo”, directly referencing A Fish Called Wanda.
- "FIERCE CREATURES RESHOOT DELAYS FILM'S PREMIERE BY NINE MONTHS" by Hans ten Cate Daily Illama 20 August 1997 accessed 19 April 2014
- "Interview with Fred Schepisi", Signis, 22 December 1998 access 20 November 2012
- Craddock, Jim, ed. VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever 2007 (Detroit: Thompson Gale, 2006), p.310, Fierce Creatures review.
- Fierce Creatures at the Internet Movie Database
- Fierce Creatures at Rotten Tomatoes
- Fierce Creatures at the British Comedy Guide