A new installment in the “Shaun the Sheep” saga from Aardman Animations is always a balm for the soul. The dialogue-free films about the adventures of a plucky young sheep, rendered expressively in clay with stop-motion animation, are delightfully timeless, utterly British and too pure for this world. The BAFTA-nominated “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” is one such installment. And as it premieres on Netflix, it just might be the most pleasant repeat viewing for parents of young children.
Aardman animator Will Becher and storyboard artist Richard Phelan step into the director’s chairs with “Farmageddon,” with a script by Jon Brown and Mark Burton. While Shaun and his sheep pals braved the world of the big city in 2015’s big screen “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” this time the wild escapades come to the farm, in this sweet tale about interspecies and interplanetary friendship featuring the intrepid Shaun and an adorable extraterrestrial, Lu-La (inquisitive chirps and baas are provided by Justin Fletcher and Amalia Vitale, respectively).
After reports of a UFO sighting, Shaun discovers a cute blue creature in the barn, with whom he bonds over shared leftover pizza. Soon Shaun and Lu-La are scooting about the countryside with the help of her telekinetic abilities, taking the tractor for a joyride and hijacking a dumpster for rides around town. When The Farmer (John Sparkes) discovers the tractor-made crop circles, he decides to capitalize on the town’s UFO fever and open up a theme park called “Farmageddon.” Naturally, hijinks and capers ensue.
The charm of the “Shaun” movies is the wonderful animation, as well as Nick Park’s beloved characters and a familiar formula. Long-suffering sheepdog Bitzer (Sparkes) is consistently harried and always gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the antics of Shaun and The Farmer, forced to pick up the pieces, or be abducted by aliens as it were. There’s also the rest of the herd, each a character in their own right. The film relies heavily on clever sight gags, with an irreverent and silly tone communicated purely with visuals.
It’s simple but elegant family entertainment, which feels of another era, a form that Aardman and Laika are singlehandedly keeping alive (it’s a relief their films are so well-loved by critics and audiences). It’s always a treat to spend time in this world, but “Farmageddon,” as high-concept as it is, doesn’t quite achieve the dramatic heights of “Shaun the Sheep Movie.” The new character and her powers lend itself to visual experimentation, and there are a few catchy tunes and musical sequences, but the extraterrestrial twist is a bit much.
Nevertheless, Aardman is making films that are unlike anything else out there, with classic craft that still feels fresh, modern and relevant. Heartfelt emotions and laughs are easily earned with just the twist of a bit of clay and a few sound effects. Talk about movie magic.
‘A SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: FARMAGEDDON’
Cast: Justin Fletcher, Amalia Vitalie, John Sparkes.
Directed by Will Becher and Richard Phelan.
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.
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