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.



Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .