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

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.