A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2019)
Directors: Richard Phelan, Will Becher
Screenwriters: Mark Burton, Jon Brown
Starring: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Amalia Vitale, Chris Morrell
Chicken Run was released twenty one years ago this year. It marked Aardman Animation’s first foray into the world of feature filmmaking and was an instant classic, proving that the British producers could hang with even the biggest and best animation studios such as Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks. Despite Aardman proving their abilities to create classics such as Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the animation group have struggled over the past decade to match the calibre of such early films, consistently making good films but never quite reaching the heights that they once reached.
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon marks the second feature film of the beloved Aardman character Shaun the Sheep. Following on from the relatively successful first film Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015), and being the recipient of an Oscar nomination for Animated Feature in 2021, it may seem from the outside like Farmageddon is the film to kick-start the Aardman renaissance. The truth is, however, less optimistic.
Farmageddon follows the titular Shaun the Sheep as he attempts to return Lu-La, an alien who has crash-landed near Mossy Bottom Farm, back to her ship. All the while The Ministry for Alien Detection attempts to capture Shaun’s new alien friend.
The movie is jam-packed with references to past Aardman projects as well as to the science fiction genre, creating a rather fun world that by its very nature appeals to children but also works hard to appeal to older fans of the studio, maintaining engagement through references and homages to the likes of ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Red Dwarf’ and Back to the Future.
That being said, Farmageddon is very much aimed at children. Whereas some of the animation house’s best films have simply been suitable for children, mostly being lauded for appealing to audiences of all ages, Farmageddon feels as though it is directly aimed at kids, for better and for worse. It’s a film very low on dialogue, making it accessible to audiences across nations, age limitations and language barriers, but this choice does take away from a lot of Aardman’s appeal as a witty and sarcastic animation studio, reducing the potential of the film. More than clever, it seems lazy… at least relative to their years long projects in the early days.
Whereas Aardman’s favourite canine, Gromit, has more character than most of the company’s other characters despite his lack of speech, Shaun the Sheep does not follow suit. Shaun is mischievous and caring, but finding much personality or depth beyond this is difficult. The same issue arises with Lu-La, and particularly the film’s ensemble of minor characters.
This one dimensional treatment of the characters translates into the story itself. Despite heavy similarities between the story of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, Farmageddon spreads the story as thinly as possible, keeping in all of the fun and taking out much of its emotional impact. Whereas Chicken Run expanded upon the films it was parodying by creating something original out of homage, Farmageddon is much more difficult to enjoy on its own.
Many of the jokes completely fail to land in Farmageddon, and in many ways it is reductive (especially for an animation house as reputable as Aardman), but it does feature some of the very best animation the studio have put together so far and there is fun to be had.
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon doesn’t feel like an Oscar-worthy film, and perhaps it is not the one to kick-start an Aardman renaissance, but the short runtime goes by as quickly as you’d expect and it is in places irresistibly fun, so while it is a film that is too hollow to praise it is certainly too difficult to hate.
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