Directors: Will Becher, Richard Phelan. Starring: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Amalia Vitale, Kate Harbour, Andy Nyman, and Joe Sugg. U cert, 86 mins.
The news that Aardman Animations was releasing a sequel to an adaptation of a TV series, which in turn was a spin-off of a short film, rang alarm bells. Had even the most beloved of British institutions run out of original ideas? Thankfully not. Despite its mouthful of a title, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is an utter delight – proof that good storytelling and strong craft are what matters, however familiar the packaging.
Directing duo Will Becher and Richard Phelan, in their big-screen debuts, borrow lovingly from the sci-fi tradition for their own tale of a close encounter of the third kind (or the furry kind, as the tagline would have it). In this case, our hero Shaun (Justin Fletcher) – a sheep, obviously – discovers that a glittery, blue dog-alien called Lu-La (Amalia Vitale) has been hiding out in his barn and eating all of his pizza. Her ship has crash-landed on Earth, immediately attracting the full force of a shady government organisation intent on capturing its first UFO. Shaun decides to help Lu-La evade detection and get home.
The story’s beats largely replicate ET, while Lu-La is basically Disney’s Stitch dragged backwards through a Claire’s Accessories (in other words, she’s downright adorable). But the magic of Farmageddon is seeing those cultural touchstones through a distinctly Aardman lens.
The script, written by Mark Burton and Jon Brown, gleefully includes nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, The X-Files, and Doctor Who. None of them feels overlaboured or gratuitous, since the film’s entire approach to comedy is so warm and self-consciously silly – from a burp that can be heard around the world to a farmer’s slapdash UFO-based theme park and its attraction, “See the moon!”, advertised by a sign pointing to the night sky.
Plus, stop-motion animation is so rare that there’s still a touch of magic to it. Its look has become cleaner and smoother over the years, but every once in a while, you catch the slightest impression of a thumbprint – a little reminder of the love and care that goes into every frame.
It’s there in the story, too. Shaun learns that being a leader means protecting those who need it most, while characters put their differences aside in order to band together and do the right thing.
Farmageddon is impressively nuanced in its themes, considering that it’s entirely dialogue-free, just like the first film. The sheep bleat, Lu-La communicates in intergalactic gibberish, and the humans grunt and guffaw in various tones. At times, it has more in common with silent film, since so much of the story is communicated through visual cues.
Really, it should be admired as a technical feat, but Farmageddon is far too much fun to feel like homework.
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