Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Movie Review: A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon **** / *****
Directed by: Will Becher and Richard Phelan.
Written by: Jon Brown and Mark Burton and Nick Park based on characters created by Park.
Starring: Justin Fletcher (Shaun / Timmy), John Sparkes (The Farmer / Bitzer), Chris Morrell (Farmer John), Andy Nyman (Nuts), David Holt (Muggins), Kate Harbour (Agent Red / Timmy's Mum), Amalia Vitale (Lu-La), Joe Sugg (Pizza Delivery Boy).
Sometimes, it feels as if the universe is laughing at you, doesn’t it? A week after I saw the horribly cynical Sonic the Hedgehog – a crass commercial enterprise in brand extension disguised as children’s entertainment, I saw the utterly delightful A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon. The plot of the two movies is virtually identical – an alien creature has to go on the run with an earthling, on the run from a government agent who wants to capture the alien – but other than that, the two films couldn’t be more different. Whereas Sonic the Hedgehog has nothing on its mind other than empty nostalgia, Farmageddon is a delightful film with influences from the entire history of animation and silent film comedians like Tati, Keaton, Lloyd and Chaplin (including a direct reference to Chaplin’s Modern Times). It is children’s entertainment done right – sweet, without being saccharine, funny without being cynical or depending on pop culture references. While Sonic is making a ton of money at the box office however, Farmageddon has been quietly dumped to Netflix. There is no justice in the world.
Shaun the Sheep is, of course, the franchise from Aardman – that wonderful British animation studio best known for Wallace and Gromit. Shaun the Sheep is a long running TV franchise – easily translatable around the world, because basically there’s no dialogue at all – the animals sound like animals, if they make any noises at all (which they don’t often do) and the humans speak in gibberish – as if it’s what those animals are hearing. The first Shaun the Sheep movie came out in 2015 – and was even better than this, a pure delight for children. It didn’t make any money in North America – because we’re idiots – which explains why this film, which played in theatres everywhere else late last year – was dumped to Netflix here, where its audience will not find it.
This time, our hero sheep has to team up with Lu-La, an alien child, who accidentally crash landed on earth, who wants nothing more than to get back to their mom and dad. To do this, Lu-La and Shaun go on the run to try and recover their spaceship – and have all kinds of hilarious adventures – a stop at a grocery store, where Lu-La discovers candy and soda is a particular delight. The Farmer, Shaun’s oblivious owner, decides he wants to capitalize on the alien craze by building a theme park. And a government agent is chasing down Lu-La, to try and prove her lifelong obsession with aliens isn’t fruitless.
The film is a sweet delight from beginning to end. Aardman knows precisely what they are doing, precisely how to reach children – probably smaller children, for whom a lot of “funny” dialogue is meaningless. The ambitions here are not great – just making very funny, sweet children’s entertainment – that is also incredibly smart for the adults in the crowd. It’s a mixture that sounds easy but is very hard – but something Aardman does better than just about anyone.
So please, see A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon – and show yours kids. You’ll both be delighted by the film, and they’ll get way more out of it than they will from Sonic. And so will you. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

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