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

If you never do anything, you never become anyone.

An Education (2009)
Carey Mulligan deserves all the attention she received for her central performance, and the depiction of the ‘60s is commendably subdued. I worried there was going to be a full-blown music montage sequence at the climax that undid all the good work, but thankfully it was fairly low key. 

Alfred Molina and Olivia Williams are especially strong in the supporting roles, and it's fortunate for credibility’s sake that that Orlando Bloom had to drop out and Dominic Cooper replaced him.
***1/2

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

Can you close off your feelings so you don’t get crippled by the moral ambiguity of your violent actions?

Spider-Man Worst to Best

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…

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.

What, you're going to walk in there like it's the commie Disneyland or something?

Stranger Things 3 (2019)
(SPOILERS) It’s very clear by this point that Stranger Things isn’t going to serve up any surprises. It’s operating according to a strict formula, one requiring the opening of the portal to the Upside Down every season and an attendant demagorgon derivative threat to leak through, only to be stymied at the last moment by our valorous team. It’s an ‘80s sequel cycle through and through, and if you’re happy with it functioning exclusively on that level, complete with a sometimes overpowering (over)dose of nostalgia references, this latest season will likely strike you as just the ticket.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…

Everyone who had a talent for it lived happily ever after.

Empire 30:  Favourite Films of the Last 30 Years
Empire’s readers’ poll to celebrate its thirtieth birthday – a request for the ultimate thirty films of the last thirty years, one per year from 1989 – required a bit of thought, particularly since they weren’t just limiting it to your annual favourite (“These can be the films that impressed you the most, the ones that stuck with you, that brought you joy, or came to you at just the right time”). Also – since the question was asked on Twitter, although I don’t know how rigorous they’re being; does it apply to general release, or does it include first film festival showings? – they’re talking UK release dates, rather than US, calling for that extra modicum of mulling. To provide more variety, I opted to limit myself to just one film per director; otherwise, my thirty would have been top heavy with, at very least, Coen Brothers movies. So here’s they are, with runners-up and reasoning:

How can you have time when it clearly has you?

Dark  Season 2
(SPOILERS) I’m not intending to dig into Dark zealously, as its plotting is so labyrinthine, it would take forever and a day, and I’d just end up babbling incoherently (so what’s new). But it’s worth commenting on, as it’s one of the few Netflix shows I’ve seen that feels entirely rigorous and disciplined – avoiding the flab and looseness that too often seems part and parcel of a service expressly avoiding traditional ratings models – as it delivers its self-appointed weighty themes and big ideas. And Dark’s weighty themes and big ideas really are weighty and big, albeit simultaneously often really frustrating. It came as no surprise to learn of the showrunners’ overriding fixation on determinism at work in the multi-generational, multiple time period-spanning events within the German town of Winden, but I was intrigued regarding their structural approach, based on clearly knowing the end game of their characters, rather than needing to reference (as they put it) Post-It…