Tag Archive: Shaun the Sheep


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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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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Aardman Studios is a British animation company known for its stop-motion  clay animation films, in particular, 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.  The studio also produced the popular Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep.  The studio’s first computer animated film, Arthur Christmas, is in theaters now.  Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli animator Hayao Miyazaki, widely considered one of the best animators of all time, counts himself as a fan of the Aardman movies.

If you haven’t seen Aardman movies before, 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, will have you wishing they’d throw CGI out the window.  Then try Creature Comforts, a half-hour television series that aired in both the UK and USA, where folks were interviewed off the street, then their voices were dubbed into farm and zoo animals.  The result was laugh-out-loud funny stuff.

Just released is the preview to the newest stop-motion, full-length film, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and it looks to be as incredibly put together as the rest.  Just check out details like the use of stop-motion liquid in this trailer.  The boat whipping across water, actually made from Plasticine, looks both realistic and unreal.

And this film features a top-notch set of character actors that should be familiar to everyone.  The Pirates! Band of Misfits, stars Hugh Grant (Remains of the Day, Bridget Jones’ Diary) as Pirate Captain, Brendan Gleeson (28 Days Later, Beowulf, Harry Potter series) as Pirate with Gout, Jeremy Piven (PCU, Entourage, Cupid, Judgment Night) as Black Bellamy, Brian Blessed (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Flash Gordon, Henry V, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) as Pirate King, Salma Hayek (Puss in Boots, Wild, Wild West, From Dusk Till Dawn) as Cutlass Liz, Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) as Pirate with Scarf, David Tennant (Doctor Who, Viva Blackpool, Harry Potter series) as Charles Darwin, and Imelda Staunton (Shakespeare in Love, Chicken Run, Peter’s Friends, Much Ado About Nothing, Harry Potter series) as Queen Victoria.

The film is based on the first two books of Gideon Defoe’s Pirates! series.  Pirates! has a March 28, 2012, release date.