DVD Review: Shaun the Sheep: Little Sheep of Horrors

Shaun the Sheep and Aardman Animations once again prove that stop-motion animation is alive and well. This stop-motion animated series is about a flock of sheep on a farm and the trouble they get into in their daily lives. The series centers on the adventures of Shaun, the title character, who is the lead sheep in the flock.

In addition to Shaun, the series features other unique characters on the farm. Bitzer is a farm dog whose responsibility it is to make sure things get done, including watching Shaun’s flock. As a consequence, he often gets drawn into the machinations of Shaun’s schemes. And then there’s The Farmer, who wears thick glasses and has little imagination. It’s his farm that all the characters live upon, and he is often duped by Bitzer and Shaun to get the sheep in and out of trouble. Beyond Shaun, Bitzer, and The Farmer, there are many other characters in the flock and around the farm.

Other characters include Shirley, who is by far the largest sheep in the flock and a force of nature who must be physically pushed from place to place. She seems to be part goat and eats anything. Timmy is the baby sheep of the flock always causing his Mother, who always wears curlers, to panic until her baby is safe. And the Naughty Pigs live in the sty beside the sheep field and are another source of trouble for the flock. They have found many ways to get in the way of the sheep having fun since the series began.

The character of Shaun the Sheep first appeared in Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave back in 1995. In 2007 he got his shot at the big time in his own series. And over the last couple of years, working with Lionsgate, and HIT Entertainment, these great stop-motion animated episodes have been coming to the US on DVD as well as on the Disney Channel.

Shaun the Sheep: Little Sheep of Horrors features six new adventures for Shaun and his friends, as well as a couple of entertaining games.

Among my favorites were the titular episode “Little Sheep of Horrors,” “Abracadabra,” and “Troublesome Tractor.”

In “Little Sheep of Horrors,” the Farmer decides to watch a scary movie, but loses interest and go to bed. But before he goes to bed, Timmy the baby sheep who has been peering in the window watching becomes intrigued. Timmy finds a way into the house, messily eats some pizza, and falls asleep in the Farmer’s chair watching the movie. When Timmy’s Mother finds little Timmy missing, she wakes the flock and Shaun mounts a hair-raising rescue in the house…

Adding a bit of magic to the series, “Abracadabra” features an old magic set thrown out by the Farmer during some Spring Cleaning. When Shaun gets a hold of it and decides to put on a show for the flock, things get out of hand. Invisible sheep on the field are the least of Bitzer’s worries as he tries to get things back under control!

And in “Troublesome Tractor,” the Farmer’s tractor seems to be bound for the scrap heap as he dreams of a newer, faster model. Shaun and the flock overhaul the old tractor for him, giving it an updated look and a faster engine. Unfortunately, they didn’t manage to test it out before the Farmer saw it and chaos reigns supreme…

The two DVD games are “Sheep-Shearing Game” where you get to choose which area of Shirley to shear. Poor Shirley ends up with some entertaining designs as the wool flies. And the “Whack-a-Pig Game” is a variation on the “Whack-a-Mole” game where you get to let the Naughty Pigs have it. My two young daughters enjoyed both games briefly, but we enjoyed the episodes on the DVD much more.

If you’re a fan of Wallace and Gromit or any of Aardman Animations’ productions, Shaun the Sheep is a great example of well done, modern stop-motion animation. And if you have kids, they’ll love to see the antics of these wonderful characters. Be sure to pick up a copy of Shaun the Sheep: Little Sheep of Horrors at your local retailer or online!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other Aardman animations from Amazon!

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DVD Review: Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death

Yes, the lovable pair from Aarman Animation is back for an all new adventure – Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death. This time Wallace and Gromit are in the baking business delivering daily baked goods with their “Dough to Door” delivery service.

For those of you new to the wonderful world of Nick Park‘s creative clay characters… Wallace is a loveable, yet scatter-brained inventor with all sorts of interesting schemes to keep the cupboard full of cheese. And Gromit is Wallace’s dog, though he’s much more than a simple pet. Gromit is Wallace’s partner in all things and most of the time ends up doing all the work. And in A Matter of Loaf and Death, Gromit is once again pulling Wallace’s buns out of the fire.

The beauty of the Wallace and Gromit features and shorts is the loving care that goes into every single frame. These characters are animated using traditional stop-motion techniques and clay figures. Sometimes called “claymation”, the clay figures are matched against clay props and painted backdrops. Each second of animation takes 24 separate shots and an amazing detail-oriented approach.

A Matter of Loaf and Death starts with the murder of Baker Bob, killed by an unknown assailant with his own rolling pin – the twelfth victim of the killer-at-large. It all goes downhill for Wallace and Gromit after that. Literally – the duo save poor Piella Bakewell and her dog Fluffles as gravity and a bike with broken brakes send them hurtling down a hill towards the zoo.

Though Gromit finds clues that make him suspect Miss Bakewell is up to something, he spends most of the rest of the movie trying to convince Wallace. But Wallace and Bakewell start a whirlwind romance that leads to an impressive chase and a couple of broken hearts…

Of the movies so far, I have to admit this one was one of my favorites. There are some hilarious homages to great filmmakers and films scattered throughout. The opening scene and one later in the movie when Gromit discovers the waiting 13 pedestals for bakers’ hats in Bakewell’s house were both great Hitchcock moments. And when Fluffles saves the day with a yellow forklift and oven mitts, I fell over laughing thinking of the scene with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien fighting the queen alien. I had to pause the movie until I could stop laughing.

Beyond the audio commentary with director Park and editor David McCormick, the only other real feature is “How They Donut: The Making of A Matter of Loaf and Death“. “How They Donut” provides a great look behind the scenes at the process the crew go through to capture just a handful of frames for the film, from constructing the models to setting the stage and verifying each and every detail is just perfect between frames.

Also included is a demo of the Wallace & Gromit Grand Adventure video game (see a review of the game here) and a bonus episode of Shaun the Sheep called “Off the Baa!” (see a review of Shaun the Sheep on DVD here). Both the game and Shaun the Sheep definitely warrant checking out if you’re in the mood for more of Wallace & Gromit and his friends!

Once again, Aardman and Nick Park have created a fun adventure to share with Wallace and Gromit fans. Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death provides animation that is great for the whole family. Be sure to check it out at your favorite retailer!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up A Matter of Loaf and Death and other great Wallace & Gromit films below!

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Game Review: Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures: Fright of the Bumblebees

Wallace and Gromit
Image via Wikipedia

Hi there!

This past March, Telltale Games released the first episode of four for a new game along the lines of their Sam & Max series. Based on the Wallace & Gromit series of short and feature-length stop-motion animated films from Aardman Animations, Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures is a shared venture between Telltale Games and Aardman. They’ve created an interactive computer adventure game where you get to control either Wallace or Gromit as they work their way through a number of challenges as they try to sell honey, create contraptions, and deal with a variety of odd characters as you would only find in Wallace & Gromit’s world.

I would liken this game to something along the lines of the various “Quest” series from Sierra Adventures back in the ’80s and ’90s (King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, and so on) mixed with the complexity of the Infocom adventure games rom the ’80s (,em>Zork, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Enchanter, and so on). Somewhere among these games are the virtual parents of Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures.

Each episode is being sold not only for PC/Microsoft Windows machines, but also for XBOX on XBOX LIVE Arcade sometime in the future. The content should be identical between the versions, but the XBOX version won’t be available for a while yet.

Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures Game Cast ...
Image by grnknight via Flickr

The animation, though computer-generated, is amazingly like that of the Wallace & Gromit animated features. You’d almost swear that you were in fact controlling the characters in one of their cartoons. So as far as the look and feel, they’re spot on. But the voice of Wallace in the game sounds different to me than the voice used in the Aardman features. Peter Sallis has done the voice of Wallace in most of the Aardman features, but unfortunately he wasn’t available for the game. The voice actor in this case is Ben Whitehead and he can do a pretty spot on impression of Wallace, but it’s not quite the same.

The interface to me is a bit dodgy at times. I have to admit that I have not played any other game from Telltale Games, so I’m not sure if it’s the same interface they used for Sam & Max, but it involves a great deal of fiddling around to get in the right place so you can click on the right things. You use the arrow or WASD keys to move the character around, the shift key to interact with your inventory, and then use the mouse to interact with objects and characters. My earlier comparison to Infocom games was based on the fact that you almost have to be a kleptomaniac to figure things out, stealing things from devices, or on tables or bookcases, and then using them to work around various puzzles.

This game is definitely not meant for the kiddies, and not from a content perspective. My daughters (ages 4 and 8) love Wallace & Gromit and always enjoy their features. But the puzzles are definitely a bit more difficult than some of the other puzzle games out for kids on PC or XBOX. I’m an experienced gamer (have been playing ever since I had an Apple II in 1982) and I even had difficulty with some of the puzzles. The good thing is that there are hints and if you get stuck, you just have to listen to Wallace to see if he can get you going in the right direction. Telltale anticipates that each episode will take between three and five hours of gameplay to finish, which isn’t bad at all.

Overall, I think this will be a great property for Telltale Games. There are Wallace & Gromit fans all over the world who will snatch up this series, and with as popular as the Sam & Max series is for them I anticipate Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures will be another another blockbuster.

Be sure to check out the game at the Telltale Games site!

–Fitz

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