Shaun is back for his second big screen adventure… well, kind of. While created as a feature film, released theatrically overseas, and originally given a US release date by Lionsgate, Farmageddon was unceremoniously pulled off the schedule in North America. It was a bit of a close shave for fans wondering if it would get picked up stateside, but Netflix eventually bought the American distribution rights to the Shaun the Sheep sequel. So basically this is a big screen adventure that you can’t actually watch on the big screen!
In this outing, while Shaun is trying to enjoy the creature comforts of farm life (despite the efforts of an overprotective sheepdog) he encounters an extraterrestrial who is being chased by government agents, can be lured out of hiding by leaving a trail of their favorite snacks, has a knack for causing trouble, and is looking for a way to phone home. Yes, that sounds familiar, but in that other film, Elliott’s mother didn’t try to take advantage of UFO fever by building a theme park in the backyard!
While starting this review, I looked back to my article on the previous movie to ensure I wasn’t repeating myself. I discovered that a lot of what I wrote then perfectly matches what I wanted to say now. So rather than trying to pull the wool over your eyes, I think past me said it best so I’m going to embrace copying myself!
“The most daring decision the filmmakers made when creating the story is to keep the entire movie dialogue-free. Yes, that’s in keeping with the TV show, but what works in a seven minute small screen episode is much more risky when projected onto the big screen with a feature length running time. This isn’t a silent film, by any means. The animals ‘talk’ with baa’s, bleats, and barks. And the humans communicate with grunts and some indistinguishable mumblings. But there is no understandable word spoken in the film, meaning the story has to be told through the characters’ actions. In untalented hands that could be a recipe for disaster, but luckily Aardman accomplishes the difficult task with aplomb. Even the youngest audience member should have no problem keeping up with the plot. (Of course the plot isn’t really that complicated which, if we’re being honest, was probably a big help in making a mostly silent movie!)
While the story is a bit bare-bones… it is well done and tightly written. It definitely doesn’t have some of the issues other TV series based films do: this isn’t just an episode with lots of padding, and it isn’t just three episodes tied together with some bookends. One issue American audiences might have is the more gentle humor of Aardman. Don’t take that the wrong way. This isn’t a movie only kids will enjoy… What I mean is Aardman doesn’t go for the non-stop laugh-out-loud moments or the funny-because-it’s-obnoxious jokes or the mean humor… It may not be what audiences are used to but it’s a refreshing change from the norm.”
Unlike its predecessor, Farmageddon is a science fiction story. That means we get spaceships, weird aliens, and cool powers — all plot points that will be extra appealing to the younger crowd while making the whole story a little more exciting than just a grand day out in the big city like the last one. But maybe more entertaining for us older folks is trying to catch all the references and callbacks to science fiction of the past. There’s no way you could find them all in one viewing, but they include Alien, 2001, Close Encounters, Doctor Who, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and too many more to list. (My favorite blink-and-you’ll-miss-it joke is a Plan 9 From Outer Space nod you can find in the grocery store scene!)
The sci-fi setting also gives the animation a bit of a jolt from the norm for Shaun the Sheep. Kids will love the look of the aliens, which while still fitting for the world Aardman has created, give the long-running franchise some fresh character designs. The ships, space scenes, and Men in Black style sets take the characters to places we’ve never them before. And the switch to the wider scope aspect gives the entire film — from playing frisbee on the farm, building a roadside attraction, or flying to an alien world — more room to play in. (Though you may not be as enamored with that decision depending on the size of whatever television you’re streaming Netflix with!)
The music of Farmageddon is fun when you notice it and has the proper sci-fi feel, but it’s not exactly catchy. And, like the first movie, the pop songs are somewhat jarring. After hearing no words spoken for long stretches of time, you kind of get used to it and you notice it when it suddenly starts happening.
While still markedly on the mild side compared to other modern animated fare, Farmageddon is a fun little film that in terms of excitement (in both its story and designs) tops the charming original. While it’s a shame that you can’t watch it as originally intended, at least it’s available on a popular subscription service where people who might not have been inclined to see it in theatres could say “what the hay” and give it a chance. It’s a sweet-tempered yarn that ewe and your entire family can enjoy together.
|Farmageddon: A Shaun the Sheep Movie|
February 14, 2020
directed by Will Becher and Richard Phelan