Skip to main content

Baa!

Shaun the Sheep Movie
(2015)

I haven’t followed the success of Wallace and Gromit spin-off Shaun the Sheep throughout its four TV seasons, so I bring little prior knowledge to his big screen debut aside from Shaun himself, and that’s from his appearance in A Close Shave. Which evidently isn’t necessary; the movie is 99% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes (for what that’s worth) and StudioCanal has already commissioned a sequel. Yeah, Shaun the Sheep Movie is good fun; slight, amiable, but anyone expecting the level of inventiveness and delirious pace of Curse of the Were-Rabbit will be a touch disappointed.


I guess I just expect Aardman to be consistently forward pushing, rather than relying on a cash cow (albeit, Shaun’s the lowest grossing of their big screen efforts, helped by being the cheapest). But that’s the way of things (just look at Pixar and their redundant sequels). It’s three years since The Pirates! In an Adventure with the Scientists! which I really liked (Shaun’s budget is less than half that feature’s, and it shows). Their next effort, due in another three years, is titled Early Man, which is hopeful if only because if the title is indicative it’s a very difficult sub-genre to spin into a successful movie.


The plot is wafer-thin; looking to take the day off, Shaun and his fellow flockers send the farmer sleepy-byes by getting him to inadvertently count them. Unfortunately, the caravan they deposit him in ends up running away. With an amnesiac farmer in the city, taking up a career as a hairdresser/shearer, it’s up to Shaun, his sheepish clan and faithful hound Blitzer to retrieve him. Which involves fending off the attentions of a vindictive animal catcher.


Kudos for making what is, effectively, a big screen silent animated movie (the characters speak in grunts; that said, Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes and Omid Djalili deliver great grunting performances), except that might lead one to expect bigger and more elaborate set pieces to complement the conceit (a la Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd). Shaun is mostly content to amble through its 85 minutes, such that it feels its length. 


There’s also an unwelcome pop sensibility present, no doubt misguidedly designed to broaden the picture’s appeal but only succeeding in making it feel slightly generic. Ash’s Tim Wheeler provides the title song, and there’s a rap from Rizzle Kicks over the end credits. I did really like the intrusion of Primal Scream’s Rocks, however, to scenes of pigs in their underpants making a mess of the farmer’s house.


That’s the thing about Shaun the Sheep though; it’s the incidental pleasures that score rather than the attempt to furnish it with a plot (I have to admit, I missed most of the cited movie references in there). There’s a liberal does of belch, bum, fart and poo jokes (they’re funny, but I’m sure it wasn’t such common currency when I was a nipper); the animal catcher (A.Trumper) even ends up with his head up a (pantomime) horse’s arse. 


An extended gag takes the drag tradition a step further (most recently celebrated in the superior Paddington); instead of men dressing up as women, sheep dress up as women (I guess that isn’t strictly drag), and the animal catcher is duly smitten with a couple of sheep dressed as a woman. Which is sort-of brilliant, but never quite as brilliant as it might be.


It’s partly down to everything else in the picture being more interesting than the sheep, even the sheep when they’re pretending not to be sheep. A sequence in a restaurant has a patron with a fish on his head putting his hands in a lobster tank, and it evidently tickled the animators far more than endless sheepishness. Likewise, a visit to the pound finds a staring dog psyching out anyone (Bitzer) who makes the mistake of looking its way, and features an iguana blowing raspberries.


Best of all is Bitzer in scrubs, stumbling into an operating theatre, gagging in his mask when he sees the description of the surgery he’s due to perform, and being handed a scalpel rather than the hacksaw he’s just grabbed; it’s a shame he’s distracted by a skeleton hanging in the corner, as it might have been fun to have him go through with the procedure. 


The slightly baffled, bespectacled Farmer reminded me slightly of Tom Hardy’s Ronnie Kray (perhaps he studied Aardman for his performance?) I’m not sure I care for Shaun all that much, to be honest. I may have been mistaken, but he seems to make “Heyyyy!” noises like Fonzie’s dog in that dreadful Fonz and the Happy Days Gang cartoon, which is bound to put you right off. Bitzer is far preferable, even if he’s slightly sub-Gromit.


Shaun the Sheep Movie’s likeable, then, but in the Aardman pantheon it’s closer to their making a Cars sequel than a Toy Story. I was going to suggest Aardman might need Nick Park directly credited as director to reach their heights, like John Lasseter with Pixar. Then I remembered Lasseter is directly responsible for Cars. There is a nagging sense that Aardman has been coasting on Wallace and Gromit and its spin-offs for the best part of two decades, still hoping to happen upon something as captivating and (re-)defining.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Garage freak? Jesus. What kind of a crazy fucking story is this?

All the President’s Men (1976)
It’s fairly routine to find that films lavished with awards ceremony attention really aren’t all that. So many factors go into lining them up, including studio politics, publicity and fashion, that the true gems are often left out in the cold. On some occasions all the attention is thoroughly deserved, however. All the President’s Men lost out to Rocky for Best Picture Oscar; an uplifting crowd-pleaser beat an unrepentantly low key, densely plotted and talky political thriller. But Alan J. Pakula’s film had already won the major victory; it turned a literate, uncompromising account of a resolutely unsexy and over-exposed news story into a huge hit. And even more, it commanded the respect of its potentially fiercest (and if roused most venomous) critics; journalists themselves. All the President’s Men is a masterpiece and with every passing year it looks more and more like a paean to a bygone age, one where the freedom of the press was assumed rather than a…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

The head is missing... and... he's the wrong age.

Twin Peaks 3.7: There’s a body all right.
First things first: my suggestion that everyone’s favourite diminutive hitman, Ike “The Spike” Stadtler, had been hired by the Mitchum brothers was clearly erroneous in the extreme, although the logistics of how evil Coop had the contingency plan in place to off Lorraine and Dougie-Coop remains a little unclear right now. As is how he was banged up with the apparent foresight to have on hand ready blackmail tools to ensure the warden would get him out (and why did he wait so long about it, if he could do it off the bat?)


Launching right in with no preamble seems appropriate for his episode, since its chock-a-block with exposition and (linear) progression, almost an icy blast of what settles for reality in Twin Peaks after most of what has gone before this season, the odd arm-tree aside. Which might please James Dyer, who in the latest Empire “The Debate”, took the antagonistic stance to the show coming back and dismissed it as “gibbering nonsen…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re the Compliance Officer. It’s your call.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
(SPOILERS) The mealy-mouthed title speaks volumes about the uncertainty with which Tom Clancy’s best-known character has been rebooted. Paramount has a franchise that has made a lot of money, based on a deeply conservative, bookish CIA analyst (well, he starts out that way). How do you reconfigure him for a 21st century world (even though he already has been, back in 2003) where everything he stands for is pretty much a dirty word? The answer, it seems, is to go for an all-purpose sub-James Bond plan to bring American to its knees, with Ryan as a fresh (-ish) recruit (you know, like Casino Royale!) and surprising handiness in a fight. Yes, Jack is still a smart guy (and also now, a bit, -alec), adept at, well, analysing, but to survive in the modern franchise sewer he needs to be more than that. He needs to kick arse. And wear a hoodie. This confusion, inability to coax a series into being what it’s supposed to be, might explain the sour response to its …

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

It does work, you know. The fire, the wooden stakes, the sunlight. I’ve got a list right here, somewhere.

Vamp (1986)
(SPOILERS) My affection for Vamp is only partly based on the adorability therein of Dedee Pfeiffer, in what might be the closest she’s come to a starring role. Ostensibly an entry in the resurgent vampire-comedy genre (Fright Night, The Lost Boys), Vamp actually slots more effortlessly into another ‘80s subgenre: the urban nightmare comedy. We’d already had Scorsese’s masterful After Hours and John Landis’ knockabout Into the Night, and writer Richard Wenk’s big screen directorial debut shows a similar knack for throwing its protagonists in at the deep end, up against an unfamiliar and unfriendly milieu.

Oh look, there’s Colonel Mortimer, riding down the street on a dinosaur!

One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975)
(SPOILERS) There’s no getting round the dinosaur skeleton in the room here: yellow face. From the illustrious writer-director team who brought us Mary Poppins, no less. Disney’s cheerfully racist family movie belongs to a bygone era, but appreciating its merits doesn’t necessarily requires one to subscribe to the Bernard Manning school of ethnic sensitivity.

I’m not going to defend the choice, but, if you can get past that, and that may well be a big if, particularly Bernard Bresslaw’s Fan Choy (if anything’s an unwelcome reminder of the Carry Ons lesser qualities, it’s Bresslaw and Joan Sims) there’s much to enjoy. For starters, there’s two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Ustinov (as mastermind Hnup Wan), funny in whatever he does (and the only Poirot worth his salt), eternally berating his insubordinate subordinate Clive Revill (as Quon).

This is a movie where, even though its crude cultural stereotyping is writ large, the dialogue frequen…

You may not wanna wake up tomorrow, but the day after that might just be great.

Blood Father (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are points during Blood Father where it feels like Mel is publically and directly addressing his troubled personal life. Through ultra-violence. I’m not really sure if that’s a good idea or not, but the movie itself is finely-crafted slice of B-hokum, a picture that knows its particular sandpit and how to play most effectively in it.