Shaun the Sheep Movie


Shaun the Sheep reads the early reviews.

Shaun the Sheep reads the early reviews.

(2015) Animated Feature (Lionsgate) Starring the voices of Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes,  Omid Djalili, Richard Webber, Kate Harbour, Tim Hands, Andy Nyman, Simon Greenall, Emma Tate, Jack Paulson, Sean Connolly, Henry Burton, Dhimant Vyas, Sophie Laughton, Nia Medi James, Stanley Unwin, Nick Park. Directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak

Variety asserts that Shaun the Sheep is comparable to the legendary French comedian Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot and while that is a bit of a stretch, I can at least see where the reviewer is coming from. Certainly Shaun is about as loquacious as the French comedian.

Shaun the Sheep (Fletcher) made his first appearance in a Wallace and Gromit short before getting a series of 7-minute shorts of his own, more than a hundred of them most of which have been broadcast on TV. This is the first full-length feature and it follows the storyline of most of the shorts, to wit Shaun and his fellow sheep try to get out of doing any farm work, having to outwit the dog Bitzer (Sparkes) and the unnamed balding Farmer (Sparkes). The shorts are clever and cute.

This time, however, things get a little out of hand when after lulling the Farmer to sleep by jumping over a fence until he nods off, they store him in what the Brits call a caravan and we call a trailer. When Bitzer gets wind of the deception, he goes to wake up his master, only to send the Caravan on a beeline for the city – London although not specifically named. Upon arrival the farmer is bonked on the head and loses all his memories. Having no ID on him, he wanders the streets, trying to find some sort of clue as to who he is and what he does for a living. He ends up mistakenly figuring out that he’s a hairdresser and uses the clippers to sheer the heads of his celebrity clients, recreating the same sorts of styles he used to give his sheep.

Shaun knows he needs to go retrieve the Farmer so he heads out to the City, only to be followed by the rest of the flock and Bitzer. A super-zealous animal control catcher named Trumper (Djalili) is on the prowl for Shaun and his friends and eventually captures Shaun and Bitzer, imprisoning them in a dog shelter which looks much more like death row. There they meet the world’s ugliest dog who has no hope of being adopted. Their new friend helps them escape and eventually hide out, where Shaun comes up with a last-ditch plan to get their Farmer back home to the farm – and put everything to right.

I have to admit that my hopes weren’t high for this, as it is the first Aardman animation feature in awhile to arrive with little or no fanfare and quite frankly, it may very well be one of the best things the studio has ever done. One thing I’d worried about is that there is absolutely no dialogue – the animals communicate with gesture, look and an occasional bleat or woof. Humans speak in an unintelligible gibberish that puts the “WAH WAH WAH” spoken by the adults in the Peanuts cartoons to shame.

There is obviously a great deal of affection for the rustic way of life; the farmhouse is one of those beautiful old stone farmhouses that dot the English countryside, the meadow is beautiful and even the “work” that is done doesn’t seem all that taxing. The bucolic setting and the obvious affection the sheep feel for the farmer and vice versa is kind of moving. You would think that a farmer who has grown to middle age without a human partner might get unutterably lonely but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Like most of Aardman’s animations, this is clever as all get out. It certainly seems to be aimed at a very young audience, certainly toddlers on up but unlike a lot of American entertainment aimed at the very young, this is just as easily digested by adult viewers. It’s very short as you might expect (barely over an hour) and not for a moment did I ever feel bored or talked down to. The opening sequence, done as a Super 8 film of the Farmer as a young man with Shaun as a baby and Bitzer as a puppy establishes the mood; it’s a rather sweet sequence and while critics have praised it, some might find it too treacly. Those who don’t like cute movies for kids would be well-advised to move on.

The charm here is undeniable and quite frankly although it doesn’t have the lofty aspirations of Inside Out or the epic setting of Minions this certainly belongs with those two films as the very best family films of the summer. Some families might be unaware of the character or the movie, but this is one I’d highly recommend for an afternoon out at the movies with the kids.

REASONS TO GO: Super charming. Clever like all Aardman films. Good for adults and kids alike.
REASONS TO STAY: Might be a little over-sentimental in places. Those who don’t like kid movies that are cute will not like this.
FAMILY VALUES: Some rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Twenty animators worked on the film, each producing about two seconds of footage per day.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/27/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Mr. Holmes

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Cockneys vs. Zombies


Alan Ford knows what to do with Jehovah's Witnesses that get a little too aggressive.

Alan Ford knows what to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses that get a little too aggressive.

(2012) Horror Comedy (Shout! Factory) Rasmus Hardiker, Harry Treadaway, Michelle Ryan, Jack Doolan, Georgia King, Ashley Thomas, Tony Gardner, Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Tony Selby, Georgina Hale, Dudley Sutton, Richard Briers, Natalie Walter, Phil Cornwell, Josh Cole, Gary Beadle, Finlay Robertson, Joan Hodges. Directed by Matthias Hoene  

 Florida Film Festival 2013

Zombies are the new vampires and fortunately none of them are sparkling, although we have had some sensitive boyfriend zombie sorts (Warm Bodies). But they’ve never run into opposition like they would have in the East End of London.

A couple of construction workers working on a condo project unearth a tomb from the 16th century with a warning from King Charles not to disturb the contents within. Being modern day men, of course they do and release a plague of zombies for their troubles.

Another victim of the condo project is a retirement home where rough and tumble Ray (Ford) resides. His grandsons Terry (Hardiker) and younger brother Andy (Treadaway) don’t want to see the residence torn down but there doesn’t look to be a way out – they’d have to buy the property back from its owner and they don’t have that kind of cash.

But they know where they can get it. With time being a factor, applying for a loan is out of the question. They’ll just have to get the money the old-fashioned way – they’ll have to steal it. Of course, while they’ve had the odd brush with the law, neither one of them is exactly a criminal genius. They’ve added a few bodies to their brigade – their sharp-tongued cousin Katy (Ryan), their somewhat bumbling friend Davey (Doolan) and the one legitimate villain – Mental Mickey (Thomas), a veteran of the Iraq war with a steel plate in his skull and a surfeit of viciousness.

During the robbery, the bank manager presses the panic button, bringing down the police. The desperate criminals take hostages – Clive (Gardner) and comely Emma (King). When they go out to face the cops, the cops are all dead and a flock of zombies is chowing down. They get away in the van but Mickey is bitten. They manage to make it back to the hideout and debate on how they’re going to get their grandfather out of the retirement home. They know he’ll want to take as many friends as he can so their van is out of the question, particularly since it doesn’t always start right up. Mickey turns not long after but head shots don’t work with him because of the steel plate. Instead, a hand grenade is stuffed in his mouth. Innovation is key to surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Meanwhile, back at the retirement home, the zombies are swarming and Ray, his girl Peggy (Blackman) and friends Daryl (Selby), Doreen (Hale), Eric (Sutton) and Hamish (Briers) take refuge in the kitchen. With the van out of the question, Andy and Terri “borrow” a double decker bus and head on out to the retirement home with the surviving members of their gang. Even if they can liberate these none-too-spry pensioners from the surrounded kitchen, where can they go?

This is really quite funny more than it is serious horror and gore, although there’s plenty of that. I’d say it’s a comedy with horrific overtones more than anything else. The cast is fairly well-known in Britain with Blackman being the best known across the pond, largely due to her iconic role of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (and for preceding Diana Rigg in The Avengers – not the Marvel version). The humor is, typical for British comedies, pretty dry although Americans who like their humor over the top will find some gags to love – my favorite was Hamish in his walker being chased by a slow-moving shuffling zombie, complaining “why is it going so fast?” as he plods his way towards safety.

There’s nothing really subtle here at all and they goof on zombie movies not only of the Romero persuasion but also some of the more persistent tropes of the genre. People who are pretty familiar with zombie movies will find a few in-jokes scattered about. Of course these are cockneys for the most part so they use the rhyming cockney jargon (i.e. apple and pears for stairs) that will go sailing over the heads of American audiences. I suspect the average cockney won’t give a crap if it does.

This is entertaining on both fronts – both the comedic and the horrific – that will satisfy fans of both genres. Even Da Queen, not a big fan of horror movies, enjoyed this far more than she thought she was gonna. I understand that the distributors are planning a late summer American release for this – if you see it playing anywhere near you, by all means take the opportunity to see it. It’s one of those delightful hidden gems that you hear nothing about that turns out to be really good and those are definitely one of life’s great pleasures for a movie buff like me.

REASONS TO GO: Cheeky. Occasional elicits some guilty laughs.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the dialogue is difficult for American audiences to figure out.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s lots of zombie gore goodness, a surfeit of foul language, plenty of violence, a few disturbing images and some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This would turn out to be the final feature film role for Briers, one of Britain’s most beloved actors (mainly for stage and television).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100; has mostly played the festival circuit after a brief British theatrical release; may be coming to a midnight movie emporium near you.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shaun of the Dead

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story