DVD Review: Shaun the Sheep: The Big Chase

Hi all!

It’s no secret I’m a fan of well-done animated programs. Whether they were done in the 1940s or in just the last few years, it really doesn’t matter so long as they are fun and tell a good story. The style is less important, though I tend to enjoy good old two-dimensional hand-drawn animation and classic stop-motion more than computer-generated “pixel fests.” With a good story and passionate people working to bring that story to life, a great team can do almost anything with animation in any style.

That said, I am also a fan of old-school humor. Slapstick from artists like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, and even the Three Stooges can be used not only to entertain audiences with wild physical antics, but can also offer social commentary in a non-confrontational way. The greats didn’t even need dialogue, just exaggerated facial and physical expressions to show action and emotion.

When you mix great animation, storytelling, and slapstick humor together, you can end up with something very special. Shaun the Sheep is one of those projects from Aardman Animation, the same folks who brought Wallace & Gromit to life. Using stop-motion, claymation techniques these brilliant folks bring an entire farmyard to life with a flock of sheep, three naughty pigs, a barnyard dog, and a clueless farmer. Without any speech at all beyond the lyrics of the theme song, each five minute episode tells a complete story with humor suitable for both kids and adults.

The latest DVD, Shaun the Sheep: The Big Chase, pulls together seven episodes of fun mayhem on Shaun’s farm. The episodes include everything from a runaway sheep on an ATV and a monster from the swamp to a runaway boat and rare migrating zebra ducks!

One of my favorites was the title episode for the DVD – “The Big Chase,” in which Timmy (the baby sheep of the flock) went for a joy ride on the Farmer’s new toy – a four-wheel ATV. Bitzer, the Farmer’s faithful dog, was supposed to be guarding it but Timmy was sneaky. And once he got the motor started, it was off to the races! Bitzer and Shaun tried to catch the ATV after stealing a motorcycle from a pizza delivery guy. The pigs tore off in a convertible to cause more chaos. And we got to see town nearby the farm for the first time I can remember. After they finally stopped the ATV, the Farmer, dressed in his finest riding leathers and helmet, gave it a spin and didn’t do nearly as well as the baby sheep!

Another great episode was “Bitzer from the Black Lagoon.” Whenever Shaun and Bitzer start playing soccer, you know nothing good is going to happen. This time when the ball gets lost in a nearby forest, Bitzer goes after it. Unfortunately, he finds the ball floating atop a small pond and when he tries to retrieve it, he ends up covered in swampy mud and greenery. When he gets back to the farm, he doesn’t look like Bitzer at all and scares the sheep into a panic. When the flock finally realize it’s really Bitzer under the muck and corner him to get him cleaned up, they get a bit of a shock instead!

And “Zebra Ducks of the Serengeti” introduces two troublesome ducks into the mix. These two birds decide to build a nest on the Farmer’s house, blocking the chimney. When Bitzer and Shaun finally get them off the roof, both birds are covered in soot and end up looking like a pair of rare Zebra ducks. The Farmer sees this as a money-making opportunity and decides to set up a small drive-through exhibit so he can show off these rare ducks. Unfortunately, like many of the Farmer’s plans, the ducks spoil everything by getting cleaned up just in time…

In addition to the seven episodes, you get a couple of bonuses. The “Mini Making of Shaun” video shows a bit about how each episode goes together and the amount of work involved. I’m always impressed seeing these talented folks getting the thousands of shots together for each five minute episode. The DVD also includes a music video (“Timmy’s Tune #1”) from the new show for preschoolers called Timmy Time.

If you like animated shows you can share with your family, it’s tough to beat Shaun the Sheep. We love all the characters and Aardman continues to add more to the series each season. Be sure to pick up Shaun the Sheep: The Big Chase at your favorite retailer or rental store if you get a chance!

This review originally appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Definitely check out this and other great Shaun the Sheep titles below!

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Movie Review: Rio (2011)

Hi guys!

Last weekend we had an opportunity to go see the new Dreamworks Animation movie Rio at the theater. We didn’t see it in 3D simply because it wasn’t playing in 3D at the time we wanted to go. But good old 2D CGI animation works just as well in my book, so I can’t say I was disappointed.

Rio is about Blu (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network and Zombieland), a blue macaw living in small-town Minnesota with bookstore owner Linda (Leslie Mann, Knocked Up and Funny People). When ornithologist Sylvio (Bernardo de Paula) comes from Rio de Janeiro and tells Linda that Blu is one of the last of his kind, he implores her to fly to Rio with Blu to see if Blu and the last known blue macaw female would be compatible and possibly keep the species alive.

Of course, when Linda and Blu get to Rio, things aren’t quite that cut and dried. When Blu meets Jewel (Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs and Get Smart), sparks fly but not quite in the way Sylvia and Linda might have hoped. When a boy breaks into the facility to steal the rare macaws, Blu and Jewel have to work together to survive…

Honestly, this movie was cute and probably one of the better animated features from Dreamworks. I don’t think it quite has the emotional pull of the first Ice Age movie and doesn’t come close to Pixar’s Up or Wall-E, but it was fun. The addition of Jamie Foxx (The Soloist and Dreamgirls) and Will i Am (The Black Eyed Peas) as birds Nico and Pedro was fun as they sang many of the musical scenes in the film. And George Lopez (TV’s Lopez Tonight and the George Lopez show) as the toucan Rafael and Tracy Morgan (TV’s 30 Rock) as the slobbering dog Luiz added quite a bit of humor as well.

Beyond that, though the movie was very colorful and cute, I just don’t get the fascination. That said, I don’t know that it matters. The target audience was families and my wife and daughters loved the film. So I’ll count it as a partial success.

The animation was smooth and gorgeous, so that wasn’t my problem. And the characters seemed to have good chemistry together. I just wasn’t all that sucked in by the story I guess. It was very family friendly however and had a number of positive messages.

According to IMDb, it’s already made nearly $40 million domestically in its first week, so I would expect it to quickly earn a profit on its reported $90 million budget in the next few weeks domestically and abroad.

If you have kids, Rio is a fun way to spend an hour and a half at the movie theater together. Have fun and let me know what you think!

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Shaun the Sheep: Spring Shenanigans (and Giveaway!)

Hey!

Whenever something new from Aardman Animation comes along, my family takes notice. Our fascination began when we found the Wallace and Gromit shorts on DVD. Stop-motion animation lovingly done in clay is tough to beat and A Grand Day Out and The Wrong Trousers quickly gave way to The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and A Matter of Loaf and Death. Like the animation addicts we are, we even liked the computer animated feature they did with DreamWorks – Flushed Away.

So when Shaun the Sheep left the comfy confines of Wallace and Gromit’s short film A Close Shave and started his own television series a few years ago, we were immediately fans as episodes began appearing on the Disney Channel in the United States. Slowly a great number of these episodes are finding their way onto DVD and we’ve been enjoying all of them!

If you don’t know who Shaun is, he’s the leader of a flock of sheep on a farm. However, he’s not like normal sheep. He’s actually more like a human kid with creativity and a love for anything fun. As such, he gets himself (and his flock and friends) into quite a bit of trouble. Along with Shaun are many other fun characters like Shirley (the huge sheep who is a veritable eating machine), baby Timmy and Timmy’s Mother (easy to spot with the curlers in her hair), Bitzer (the farmer’s dog who tries to keep Shaun out of trouble), the Farmer (a clueless bloke who runs the farm but has no idea of what goes on), and the Pigs (who are always trying to get the sheep in trouble).

Like Wallace and Gromit, Shaun and his friends are animated using stop-motion techniques in a moldable plastic. The sets and characters are all hand-created and every second of an episode is composed of 24 individual shots. If you’re counting, that amounts to more than 7,000 individual shots in a normal 5 minute episode.

What’s amazing is that there’s no actual speech in any episode except for grumbling and the lyrics of the Shaun the Sheep theme song at the beginning. By removing the language element, I think it’s much more easily translated from country to country and culture to culture. The comedy uses classic slapstick visual gags and I have to admit I don’t mind the lack of words!

The series has been garnering all kinds of awards lately as well, including an Honorable Mention in Audience Choice Award at the World of Comedy Film Festival (March 2010), the British Animation Award for Best Children’s TV Series, an International Emmy for Children and Young People (November 2010), the Children’s BAFTA for Best Animation (November 2010), and the Writer’s Guild Award for Best Children’s Television Comedy (November 2010). So we’re not alone in thinking Shaun the Sheet is a terrific series.

The new Shaun the Sheep: Spring Shenanigans DVD includes seven fun episodes. The baby sheep Timmy even gets top billing in a couple of them – “Spring Lamb,” in which he gets stuck on a spring and bounces around the farm while trying to avoid a bath; and “Supersize Timmy,” where he eats a tomato with “Miracle-Grow” on it and stomps through the farm destroying everything in his path King Kong-style. Also included are “Bagpipe Buddy,” “Cheetah Cheater,” “Lock Out,” “Draw the Line,” and “Ewe’ve Been Framed.”

Shaun the Sheep
Image via Wikipedia

We love that they’ve added a cat – Pidsley – to the mix in more recent episodes. He’s a vindictive little critter who gets himself and the rest of the farm into all kinds of trouble. In “Cheetah Cheater,” he watches a nature documentary about cheetahs on TV with the Farmer and decides he’d like to scare the flock a bit. He creates a cheetah suit out of one of the Farmer’s bathrobes and stalks the farm, scaring Shaun, Bitzer, and the rest of the farm. Eventually the flock catches onto his plan, but so does the Farmer – and he doesn’t appreciate the cat destroying his clothes!

“Bagpipe Buddy” shows how clueless and kind the flock can be at times. When a ball gets stuck in the junk pile, Shaun and Timmy go poking around and find an old set of bagpipes. They don’t know what it is until Bitzer finds a book and they decide it must be a sick duck. It’s hilarious to see them trying to fix the bagpipes and set them free so they can join their friends flying in the sky…

And in “Draw the Line,” a road line-painting machine is left nearby the farm and gets used in various odd ways. Initially, the Farmer uses it to draw the goalie box for a small game of soccer with Bitzer. Then Bitzer uses it to outline his doghouse and where his bowl and bone should go. But once Shaun and the flock get a hold of it, lines go everywhere around the farm as you might imagine. By the time the line painter gets his equipment back, the whole farm is in an uproar!

In addition to the episodes, the DVD also includes a game where you can shear the sheep on screen and a couple of extras from the new preschool series Timmy Time. If you’re looking for some family fun, my family will back me up when I say we highly recommend you check out Shaun the Sheep: Spring Shenanigans on DVD!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

I have one extra copy of Shaun the Sheep: Spring Shenanigans for some lucky reader. If you’re a fan, all you have to do is leave me a comment on this entry and let me know you’re interested. The contest is open to U.S. residents only (sorry, cost of shipping is prohibitive internationally) and will end on February 18, 2011 – I’ll let the winner know by e-mail who’s getting the prize!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Shaun the Sheep DVDs below!

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