Directed by Will Becher and Richard Phelan
Starring Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Amalia Vitale
Jumanji: The Next Level will probably be the shiny new bauble that attracts moviegoers to the cineplexes this week, but let me spare a few column inches to encourage you to check out Aardman Animations’ latest installment to their Shaun the Sheep claymation franchise, Farmageddon.
With its Oscar-approved clay-and-plasticine movies, Aardman is the closest thing Britain has to a Pixar, and it’s easy to take the studio’s genius for granted. That is certainly the case with their latest creation, Shaun the Sheep (“voiced” by Justin Fletcher), who, in a long animated history of anthropomorphic animals, manages to communicate his twinkly mischievousness without uttering a single human word.
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A little over four years ago, the eggheads at Aardman decided to string together the seven-minute TV adventures of this spindly-limbed sheep with his mouth sticking out the side of his head into a full-length movie, and got an Oscar nomination for a reward. The question then became: What to do for a follow-up?
If the resulting sequel doesn’t quite match the manic inventiveness of the first Shaun the Sheep Movie, it’s because the focus isn’t as trained on the farm from whence all the fun springs. In Farmageddon (a cute title, even though the threat isn’t as world-ending or even as menacing as you might think), a vaguely dog-like alien named Lu-La (Amalia Vitale) crash lands in the town of Mossy Bottom. After striking up a friendship over a shared love of pizza, Shaun immediately susses out that the space interloper is actually a little babe who needs reuniting with her extraterrestrial parents.
Meanwhile, Shaun’s human guardian The Farmer (John Sparkes) has his sights set on a snazzy new combine harvester, and decides to put on a lights-and-effects show exploiting his town’s newfound notoriety as an alien-crash site to drum up the funds. An expected chase with a nefarious government agent (Kate Harbour) ensues.
With her floppy dog ears and multicolored pastel complexion, Lu-La possesses a kind of focus-grouped blandness to her cuteness, and the plot’s need to have her interacting with the outside world—watch out for a burp-heard-round-the-world sequence set at a grocery store—takes a lot of attention away from Shaun’s endearing sheep family, who opens this sequel with hilarious antics like piling into a tractor and forming a cheerleading pyramid. All to the chagrin of sheepdog Bitzer (also “voiced” by John Sparkes), who may be less perspicacious than his Aardman canine compatriot Gromit, but whose foolhardy insistence on rules is a welcome foil to Shaun’s playfulness. Still, it’s not often you get a smart animated feature about sheep that references E.T. The Extraterrestrial and The X-Files. So please, go and pay a visit to the farm—I promise it’s still baaaaadass.
Photographs from Aardman Animations Ltd and STUDIOCANAL SAS