Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen
I’ve always had a bit of a warm fuzzy for Aardman animation. I was introduced to Wallace and Gromit more than a couple of decades ago, and I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since. That said, I am less entranced with the Shaun the Sheep projects. If you don’t know the history, Shaun the Sheep is what we would have called a spin-off back in the day. He was a character in a Wallace and Gromit short called A Close Shave, and much like Snoopy in Peanuts cartoons, he soon became the focus. Shaun has his own television show, and now has two movies, the latest being A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.
The thing to know going into this is that Shaun the Sheep doesn’t talk. He laughs and makes a lot of vocal noises, but he doesn’t actually talk. None of the characters talk. I don’t know if this is the case for the television show, but for this movie and the previous Shaun movie (called, unimaginatively Shaun the Sheep Movie), the plot plays out in large respect like a silent comedy. Basically, everyone is Gromit in that respect.
For this film (which I’m going to call Farmageddon from this point forward), we start with Shaun and the other sheep who live with him trying to find something to do to entertain themselves, foiled in everything by their farmer’s dog, Bitzer. Shaun finally outsmarts Bitzer temporarily, managing to order a trio of pizzas, but he gets caught with two of them. However, both Bitzer, with the two confiscated pizzas and Shaun with the one he manages to sneak in, discover that the boxes are empty.
We soon discover why. Following a trail of pizza, Shaun soon discovers Lu-La, an alien from the planet To-Pa. Lu-La can mimic sounds and has powers that are very reminiscent of E.T. Lu-La causes a variety of problems that ultimately end in the destruction of the farm’s combine. Initially miffed, the farmer soon realizes that has what looks like crop circles on his land. With the recent rash of alien sightings, he decides to build a theme park that he calls “Farmageddon” in an effort to raise enough money to replace his destroyed machinery. Hilarity ensues, especially when we learn that Lu-La is actually a child who essentially stole her parents’ spaceship. Then, when the ship is destroyed, the problem becomes one of finding a way to have her, well, phone home.
We’re also going to have an antagonist in the person of Agent Red, who is in charge of the Ministry of Alien Detection. Red is rabid to find aliens; we learn this comes from a childhood experience where she saw aliens and was ridiculed for it. So, much like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, we’re going to have a race to get the alien home before the technology-infused government agency tracks her down.
As you would expect from something like this, there are a lot of references to other films, not limited to E.T.. There are naturally some Close Encounters riffs, and some reference to the X-Files as well, and even a subtle poke at Doctor Who in the credits. But it really is essentially a new version of E.T., which Shaun in the role of Elliot, Lu-La as the alien (naturally), and Bitzer as more or less a blend of Elliot’s family. I’m a little disappointed in just how much this reminded me of the earlier film, albeit with touches of a few other movies tossed in.
I’m also a bit put off by the length. Farmageddon runs a skosh under 87 minutes, and the credits start rolling with a good nine minutes left in the running time. There are a couple of solid jokes that are genuinely worth seeing, but there’s not a lot more here. In a lot of respects, you’ve probably already seen this, although not this short or animated in this way. And while the run time is very short, I’m not sure what could be done to flesh it out. It pretty much hits all of the points it wants to, and adding something would feel like padding something that is already pretty thin on plot in a lot of ways.
Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t dislike this film, but I am kind of disappointed in it. Aardman often picks the bones of other films (Chicken Run being essentially a new version of The Great Escape, after all) but hiding that fact in clever ways. This one doesn’t hide where or how it borrows from an earlier source.
And, in a last problematic bit, the name doesn’t fit. Why a reference to Armageddon? Are there aliens in the biblical prophecy?
Why to watch A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon: Aardman animation really is pretty special
Why not to watch: If you’re not in the mood for what is essentially a silent comedy, you’ll have a hard time with this.