Shaun the Sheep Movie: Studio Aardman Do it Again

Shaun the Sheep still

Shaun the Sheep Movie from Studio Aardman, aka Aardman Animations,  does it again, they go back to that Nick Park well. This time however, the Creature Comforts (1989) creator, Park himself, is in the producer’s chair versus the director’s one.  In some ways it is blatantly obvious from the first frame when one observes that there is no discernible dialogue.

Sounding more like a episode of Morphbut deeper and with a decidedly Scottish bent to it, the dialogue consists of sounds. Grunts, partial “almost” words and a kind of “Sim” speak make up all “lines” in the stop motion film.  (Nod if “Sim-Speak” means anything at all, think expresso drinking…)

Apart from this irritating decision to keep any of the “people” type characters from speaking, Shaun the Sheep Movie will be  hit with both young and old audience members.  There are enough sight gags to keep even the smallest shaver happy and enough “homages” to grown up films to keep a Simpson’s fan happy, who may have accidentally strayed onto this film.

(The Simpsons are mentioned just for the Cape Fear reference toward the end of the film. One that the yellow colored cartoon family did so well on the television show with Sideshow Bob versus Bart…)

The plot of Shaun the Sheep Movie is not too different, it seems, from the television show source. Shaun and his little sheep mates decide to have a day out and it all goes colossally wrong.  The farmer gets a conk on the head and forgets who he is, the sheep and the dog all wind up in the nick (animal jail) and after some antics it all works out in the end.

Perhaps watching too much Wallace and Gromit (and hearing the delightful Peter Sallis saying “Cheese! Gromit!”) has spoiled any other characters in the Aardman stable (see what we did there) like Shaun, who actually first showed up in A Close Shave. The little wooly creature soon spawned his own series but has never really been  a personal favorite.

Add to this the mumbling and muttering of each character and this one leaves a little to be desired, in terms of “acting” per se. Still, there are enough gags and homages to make the film interesting to a wide ranging audience.

There are jokes aplenty, the farmer becomes an amnesiac celebrity hairstylist and the sheep all dress up like people. Since no one can really speak anyway, the lamb’s bleating comes over as “language” so they fool everyone.

Shaun the Sheep Movie has a cracking soundtrack and enough action to keep the little ones from getting distracted. There are a number of “exciting” action pieces although nothing on scale of Curse of the Were-Rabbit or The Wrong Trousers.  (Once again Wallace and Gromit features with brilliant action set pieces; the train or the flying arcade plane for example.)

The main fun for the grownup viewers of this Aardman offering will be all the various nods and winks to other films and genres. Critics have waxed ecstatic about the film and ratings are high for this “silent” grunting film.  While dialogue would have improved the film for this viewer exponentially, the overall effect was one of amusing action and clever homage fun.

The youngsters will love more childish antics of Shaun the Sheep Movie while the adults will appreciate the trouble that Mark Burton and Richard Starzak went to making the film one that everyone could enjoy. 

A 4 out of 5 star stop-motion animated feature that would have gotten a full 5 if the character’s had talked (or had Peter Sallis in it). Good fun regardless of the lack of real dialogue. Studio Aardman do it again and give us entertainment for the whole family.

Rango (2011): Animated Animals Re-Create Spaghetti Western Chinatown

Rango (2011 film)
Rango (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The alternate title for this review was going to be, “Silly rabbit these Trix are not for kids.” But it sounded too trite and perhaps eclectic, even though the film is definitely not for the younger members of the audience. Wikipedia calls Rango a ‘ computer-animated family comedy film‘and that’s not too far from the truth. IMDb comes a bit closer with simply categorizing it as an ‘Animated Adventure Comedy.

The marketing for Rango was abysmal. It was advertised as (like the Wikipedia entry) a family film. One that you could take your toddlers to and they would enjoy it whole heartedly. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on whether you are a toddler or not) the film is too sophisticated and clever for the younger audience members to “get.”

Trailers for the film focussed on the more ‘slapstick’ aspects of the movie and left out the sly nudges and winks that the creators intentionally put into the film to pay homage to just about every spaghetti western ever made. In fact the entire film pays homage to just about every western ever made.

What transforms the film from just being clever, witty fun and propels it into the realm of genius was the decision make the entire cast animated animals who, in essence, are re-enacting the plot from Roman Polanski‘s Chinatown. But that isn’t all the film pokes fun at.

The casting of the real actors who voice their animated counterparts is another nudge and wink, not only to the actor’s themselves but to the stereotypical roles that they usually play.  Alfred Molina the English Actor has been cast as a ‘Mexican’ heavy  a lot. Casting him as the ‘Mexican’ armadillo who starts the whole story moving was slyly funny.

Johnny Depp as the chameleon lead Rango was again another great touch and pointing out that Depp the actor was just that, a chameleon.  Ned Beatty as the villainous and scheming Mayor was another brilliant touch and the second ‘villain’ role for Beatty as an animated ‘baddy.’ Beatty had voiced the cruel teddy Lotso in Toy Story 3 so well in 2010 that I’m sure that’s why the creators chose him for the Mayor.

The rest of the cast are all equally impressive with pedigrees that cannot fail to impress. Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone, Timothy Olyphant (in what has to be the coolest and best cameo in the world as ‘the spirit of the west’ aka Clint Eastwood) and Bill Nighy as Rattlesnake Jake who almost literally steals the film in his portrayal of the Lee Van Cleef-like character.

Johnny Depp’s Rango accidentally ends up in a western desert.  Stranded, alone, and out of his depth Rango meets Roadkill (Alfred Molina) who tells Rango that he needs to find the ‘spirit of the west’ in order to find his way (way meaning his purpose in life and also the way to survive). While running from an eagle Rango finds himself in the town of Dirt.

Dirt is a ‘dry-town’ in the literal sense. The town has no natural water supply as it suddenly and mysteriously ‘dried up’ and now the Mayor (Beatty) and his thugs rule the town with an iron fist.

Rango manages to annoy the Mayor’s thugs and accidentally kill the eagle (who terrorizes the town more than the Mayor and his thugs). He tells the townspeople that he is the notorious badman Rattlesnake Jake’s brother. He is then made the town’s sheriff by the Mayor.

Rango must now help the townspeople find water, hope and solve the mystery of the missing water.

This animated feature was so well written and executed that I completely forgot that the cast was made up of cartoon animals. It became a western, plain and simple.

A western that was funny, exciting and moving.

I am sure that Roman Polanski never realised that his film Chinatown would work so well as an animated western populated by animals.