Tag Archive: Nick Park


Review by C.J. Bunce

Only mere seconds into Farmageddonthe next big production from frequent Oscar-winner and stop-motion pioneer Aardman Animations–and viewers will feel the pangs of their favorite classic Steven Spielberg movies, complete with a magical score that has all the beats of a John Williams-esque adventure, thanks to composer Tom Howe.  This is a return to the lovable Aardman underdog Shaun the Sheep, star of several series and films who we last saw on the big screen in 2015’s Shaun the Sheep movie.  But this time our lovable wooly hero encounters an alien visitor and the resulting effort by directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan with writers Jon Brown, Mark Burton, and Nick Park may be Aardman’s most effective, most lovable, and most far-reaching crowd-pleaser to date.  A direct-to-Netflix presentation, it also stands a chance at being a contender for best full-length animated film at next year’s Oscars.

Shaun the Sheep steps in for Spielberg’s Elliott in this modern close encounter with a lovable extra-terrestrial named Lu-la, so adorable that she may even make Baby Yoda go “awww.”  The impeccable stop-motion animation viewers expect from Aardman is here, as well as the cast of endearing anthropomorphic farm animals, but the heartfelt story, unthinkably successful chemistry between clay characters, exquisite visual effects, lighting, and cinematography, and an emotional score make for a triumph of sci-fi and family storytelling, proving a common language is not necessary to understand relationships between someone that might be a bit different.  Here that’s a sheep and an alien, but the story is effective enough that kids (and attentive adults) will apply the message to everyone.  In fact, Aardman proves language isn’t necessary at all–the story is told entirely without spoken English dialogue, relying on expressive visuals, animal voices, and sound effects, making it truly internationally (or intergalactically) enjoyable.

This fun new sci-fi/fantasy adventure begins with a dog guarding his sheep–a motley but crafty band who live at the farm including Shaun–followed by a great homage to Looney Toons classic barnyard antics as the show establishes the farmyard bond between sheep and dog and dog and man.  The man and dog– The Farmer and Bitzer–show Aardman going back to its roots, what first made the filmmaker internationally known through its award-winning shorts.  Wallace and Gromit could be cousins to this man and dog duo, and anchoring the film with the ensemble here again (as with past Shaun stories) instead of going off in a different direction was a wise choice.  It takes a special combination to merge classic animation with expert laugh-out-loud comedy situations, and the creators at Aardman are the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the spirit and creativity of Jim Henson.  The story is sweet and can appeal to a variety of audiences.  The older crowd can try to spot all the influences, and the young at heart can marvel at Farmageddon′s sheer joyous presentation.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You may not know it, but you probably first met them in their record-breaking music video that they pulled together in only two weeks for Peter Gabriel’s song, Sledgehammer.  It’s a story of two teenagers borrowing mom’s old kitchen table to use to film their Plasticine creations.  Flash forward a few years and their multiple Oscar-winning company is negotiating for big-budget real estate for their movie studio.  The company is Aardman Animations, named for the star character of their earliest film.  And the founders are Peter Lord and David Sproxton, who have documented their journey in this year’s latest chronicle of the history of animation, A Grand Success! The Aardman Journey, One Frame at a Time, now available from Abrams Press.

It’s not just a biography of the two boys who would see their company bring home four Oscars and even more nominations and BAFTAs.  A Grand Success! (the title a play on their first Oscar-nominated adventure, A Grand Day Out) is a time capsule of those key intersections of effort, skill, perseverance, and happenstance, that can make any endeavor a success.  The efforts of the small British upstart found their footing in both the worlds of fantasy film and advertising.  One put the food on the table until, like many creators, they could focus on their passions.  And although they didn’t sever their ties with commercial work, they created what are now among the most recognized characters in England and the world outside the United States (and their U.S. following isn’t too bad, either).  Before long their ideas had them sealing big deals with the likes of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, and having actors from Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Grant, Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams, and Tom Hiddleston–the cream of Britain’s acting talent– providing the voices of their characters.

A crowning achievement in animation in The Wrong Trousers, from the studio lauded by Ray Harryhausen, Terry Gilliam, and Matt Groening.

Lord and Sproxton pull in two other key players in their look at Aardman’s history, animators Nick Park and Richard “Golly” Goleszowski.  Park grew up as a fan of Aardman’s films as a kid, and by 1989, when he was only 31, he was attending Oscar parties as the face of the studio.  All four would create iconic characters from Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, and the anthropomorphic “very British” animals of Creature Comforts.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Oscar-winning filmmaker Nick Park is back with his next entry in Aardman Animations’ ingenious world of classic stop-motion animation.  The family comedy Early Man takes audiences back to the city of Manchester, England, at the dawn of the Bronze Age.  In this slapstick look at history, cave men created football (American soccer) from a fallen meteorite.  The sport fell out of favor, but was picked up again and embraced in the early Bronze Age by a city of moderners, but the cave men are still around and have one chance to save their world if they can only beat the Bronze Age team at the game.  Unfortunately it’s a group of bumbling early humans who must learn the sport and take on a group of arrogant professional players.  But it’s in the genes of the cave men, so amid a non-stop volley of sports metaphors, tropes, and jokes, the cave men have a go at it.

Leading the team and the story is Dug, voiced by Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), along with his companion, an eager early-era wild boar named Hognob, voiced by the film’s director Nick Park.  The duo make for a solid homage, albeit a prehistoric incarnation, of Park’s famous Wallace & Gromit.  The villain in the tale is Bronze Age leader Lord Nooth, lover and hoarder of all things bronze, especially bronze coins.  He’s voiced by a nearly unrecognizable Tom Hiddleston (Thor: Ragnarok) playing an over-the-top, snooty opportunist in full-on Monty Python comedy style.  Game of Thrones and Doctor Who actor Maisie Williams offers her own voice acting talent as Dug’s new friend Goona, and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter series, Alice in Wonderland, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams) is Dug’s good-natured and encouraging leader, the firmly about the old ways Chief Bobnar.

Little kids will laugh at the silliness of the characters and adult U.S. anglophiles will understand most, but probably not all, of the British comedic references.  And there are many.  Soccer fans will pick up on references to the sport, to Manchester United, zebra crossings, and puns that will work for fans of any sport.  Want to see why Stonehenge was built?  Ever seen the genesis of the electric razor?  The film has already opened to positive reviews in the United Kingdom, but does not arrive in theaters in the States until later this week.

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Aardman Studios is that British animation company known for director Nick Park and his stop-motion clay animation films, most notably the Academy Award winning Wallace & Gromit, and the groundbreaking series Creature Comforts.  Its full length feature Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit also won an Academy Award for best animated feature.  And the studio produced the popular Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep, and Pirates! Band of MisfitsDirector Hayao Miyazaki, widely considered one of the best animators of all time, counts himself as a fan of the Aardman movies.

Haven’t seen this kind of animation before?  It’s the style every kid in the 1960s grew up with.  Start with the three Wallace & Gromit shorts A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, and A Close Shave featuring a cheese loving British inventive chap named Wallace and his smart, loyal, and cynical dog Gromit.  The animation, and the quick speeds of certain segments, are simply stunning.  Then try Creature Comforts, a half-hour television series that aired in both the UK and USA, where every day folks were interviewed on the street, then their voices were dubbed into farm and zoo animal characters.  The result is laugh-out-loud funny.

Just released is the preview to the next stop-motion, full-length film, Early Man.  It features the voices of Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Tom Hiddleston (Thor), Maisie Williams (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones), and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter series).  Check out this trailer for the film:

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MonstersCover

Evoking the best of the classic Warner Bros. Merry Melodies cartoons, Brazilian artist Gustavo Duarte’s new book of comics is one of those works that you’d mistake for a classic you read as a kid, only maybe slightly a bit more twisted.  The pace and themes of Monsters! & Other Stories recalls Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit animated shorts, good company for this visual treat completely without words.

Duarte mixes humor and the askew in his first of three stories, “Có!” (the sound of a rooster) about a farmer about to relax with a drink, who suddenly finds himself thrust into a bizarre encounter with his pigs, a giant chicken and an alien spacecraft.  Something here evokes the strange tale of Bugs Bunny and his giant orange monster from the Looney Toons “Bugs the Beautician,” or maybe the other Loony Toons favorite, “A Sheep in the Deep,” with Ralph the wolf and Sam the sheepdog.

Monsters page art

“Birds” follows an anthropomorphic bird in suit on his day at the office who wages war against death itself, and a particularly bad pot of coffee.  The story quickly spirals into a morbid flight from death with the bird’s co-worker, resulting in a nasty–and gory–outcome for the pair.

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