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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DVD Review: Shaun the Sheep: Party Animals

Hey there…

Did you know that farm animals secretly throw parties when their farmer isn’t looking? Neither did I, but somehow those sneaky barnyard critters are doing their best to have a good time at the farmer’s expense.

Shaun the Sheep comes from the same minds at Aardman Animation who brought us the Wallace and Gromit shorts and films as well as the movies Chicken Run and Flushed Away. Through the power of clay and stop motion animation, Nick Park and his crew tell stories with a sense of humor and creative genius that’s hard to beat. For each five minute episode of Shaun the Sheep, it takes more than 7,000 individual shots where models and backgrounds are tweaked ever so slightly between each frame, so you can only imagine the number of frames necessary for a longer film. Every time we see a new production from Aardman, I’m reminded of what must be infinite patience of these talented animators.

Each episode of Shaun the Sheep focuses on the flock of sheep that lives on a farm with The Farmer and his dog Bitzer. Shaun is the leader of the flock, always looking for ways to have a good time. Shirley is the biggest sheep in the flock, always eating. Timmy is the baby of the flock, whose mother wears curlers in her hair and sometimes forgets to watch him. The Naughty Pigs live in their sty beside the flock’s field and are always trying to get the sheep in trouble. And there are many other characters who appear from time to time throughout the series.

What’s always amazing to me is that though no clear words are said and every character mumbles, barks/growls, baas, or snorts their way through a conversation – the person watching the episode typically understands what’s being said. It’s that non-verbal communication that makes the series equally humorous for kids and adults alike I think.

There are seven fun episodes included on the Shaun the Sheep: Party Animals DVD, as well as a couple of bonus features.

In “Party Animals,” the farmer plans a costume party for his birthday, but Bitzer manages to destroy the invitations on the way to the mailbox. So Shaun and the flock save the day by creating their own costumes and showing up at party time. The Farmer has a great time and somehow doesn’t figure out that his party guests aren’t human!

“Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow” made us laugh hysterically as The Farmer gets ready for his big date and breaks out his hairpiece. When Shaun tries it on, it blows off his head and he and Bitzer go on a quest to save it in time for the big date. The part that made us laugh uproariously was seeing The Farmer’s animated clay butt stick out of the shower curtains at the beginning. The poor guy is more than a little clueless and yet hilarious at the same time.

And in “Pig Swill Fly,” the farm inspector pays a visit and everything has to be perfect. Of course, “perfect” isn’t in the cards when the sheep and pigs literally start a war. Shaun and the flock build a cannon and the pigs steal the crop duster as the war escalates. Though Bitzer does his best to protect the Farmer and the inspector, nothing can quite save them from mud pies falling from the sky…

Also included are “Double Trouble,” “Operation Pidsley,” “Shaun Goes Potty,” and “Strictly No Dancing.” “Operation Pidsley” is the first time we encounter The Farmer’s pet cat Pidsley who just happens to be the arch enemy of Bitzer.

The extras include a “Building-a-Pig,” which shows you step by step how to make one of the Naughty Pigs out of clay, and a sneak peek of Timmy Time, which is a new show for kids starring Timmy the baby sheep of the flock. Though I have to say that the Timmy Time sneak peek gave me a bit of a headache with their song “Timmy’s Tune,” the feature detailing how to make a pig was very interesting.

As with all Shaun the Sheep DVDs so far, I laughed through all the episodes with my family. It’s perfect for kids and parents and there’s plenty of funny to go around. Check out the series’ website at ShaunTheSheep.com for more information about the show and be sure to look for Shaun the Sheep: Party Animals at your favorite rental counter or retailer!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these Shaun the Sheep DVDs below!

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DVD Review: Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind

Hi all…

That’s right! Shaun, Bitzer, the Farmer, and all the rest of the gang are back for another set of adventures on Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind.

For those of you who might not have heard of Shaun the Sheep before, it’s a series of stop-motion animation shorts that revolves around a flock of sheep on a farm. Created by Nick Park and Aardman Animation, this series is from the same creative folks who brought you the many Wallace & Gromit shorts and films as well as the movies Chicken Run and Flushed Away.

Unlike traditional hand-drawn or computer-drawn animation, stop-motion animation requires physical models and sets to be put into position for a particular scene. A picture is taken, they verify that everything looks right, and then they painstakingly move the clay models the tiniest amounts in preparation for the next frame. At 24 frames per second, you can imagine it takes quite a long time to film each episode, which is about 5 minutes.

As far as the characters in the show go, Shaun is of course the star of the show and the leader of the flock. He’s a clever little sheep and can find ways to have fun and get out of trouble when he needs to. Bitzer is the sheepdog and Shaun’s friend. Bitzer makes sure the flock stays where they need to be and don’t get into too much trouble. And the Farmer owns the farm where Shaun, Bitzer, and the rest of the gang hang out. He seems completely oblivious to the fact that his dog and sheep are probably smarter than he is.

What makes the series entertaining is the combination of slapstick comedy, simple stories, and the complete lack of actual speech by any characters. There are grunts, grumbles, and groans that approximate a conversation, but nothing understandable by the audience. And the slapstick humor is appropriate for everyone from ages 0 to 100. Though shown most often to kids, I think there’s plenty for adults to love as well.

Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind is a collection of 6 hilarious episodes from the series. Included are “Shaun Encounters,” “The Bull,” “Hiccups,” “Bitzer Puts His Foot In It,” “Save the Tree,” and “The Visitor.” You get everything from aliens to unstoppable hiccups, the dangers of letting concrete dry around curious sheep, and the power of a flock working together to save the biggest, most beautiful tree on their field. Among them, three were my favorites.

“Shaun Encounters” pits Shaun, Bitzer, and the flock against two little aliens out to have a good time. The aliens are cute – with a single eye on top of their heads and butts that squeak when they walk. And all they’re looking for is fun. The devious pair dives into Shirley’s (the biggest sheep in the flock and a real eating machine) wool and makes her float in the air. Well, she floats until Shaun tries to save her and they both fall to the ground.

I was entertained by the “spooky” piano music at the beginning of the episode that reminded me of music from the Halloween movies in the 1980s. And I learned something new as well. I had no idea the Farmer wore dentures!

In “The Bull,” we meet the bull who lives on the farm and somehow gets into the flock’s field. When Shaun tries to get him to go home, the bull takes offense and poor Shaun gets catapulted into the pig sty with the three Naughty Pigs. Things get further out of hand when the Pigs toss a can of red paint into the flock’s bathtub. Then you have a whole flock of red targets for the bull to chase. But never fear, Shaun comes up with a plan and saves the day playing a matador to save his friends.

This is the first episode of Shaun the Sheep that I have ever had to rewind and watch a part over again because I didn’t believe what I was seeing. I had to watch in slow motion as the red-dyed sheep get the poop scared out of them by the bull. That really made me laugh.

And in “The Visitor” we see a combination of “Shaun Encounters” and a new interstellar biofuel for space travel. When an alien crash lands in the flock’s grazing area, the sheep help fix up his spaceship so he can go home. But he’s out of gas, so they look around the Farm for things he can use to power his ship. Eventually they find that sheep poop makes a perfect fuel source! Why can’t we run cars on the stuff?

In addition to the six episodes, you also get a couple of bonus features. With “Sing-Along With Shaun” you can sing, karaoke-style, along with the Shaun the Sheep theme song… “He’s Shaun the Sheep / He even mucks about with those who cannot bleat / Keep it in mind / He’s one of a kind / Oh… life’s a treat with Shaun the Sheep!” And with the “Whack-a-Pig” game, you try to throw vegetables at the pigs and get a high score.

As with all Shaun the Sheep DVDs, I laughed through all the episodes with my family. It’s perfect for kids and parents and there’s plenty of funny to go around. Check out the series’ website at ShaunTheSheep.com for more information about the show and be sure to look for Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind at your favorite rental counter or retailer!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Click below to pick up some great Shaun the Sheep DVDs!

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