DVD Review: Shaun the Sheep: Animal Antics

Hi again!

Before I begin this review, I must confess something. I’m a 41 year old married father of two and I still like cartoons just as much as when I was a kid. There, I said it! By now it’s probably no secret that I have a soft spot in my heart for well-written and animated cartoons, but I can’t stop. Hopefully I won’t have to stop until I stop breathing!

So why this confession? Because I need to explain my fascination and admiration for Shaun the Sheep. HIT Entertainment has just released a new collection of shorts called Shaun the Sheep: Animal Antics, and I have to say it’s one of my favorite collections since Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind. The DVD includes seven great stories this time covering everything from golf and garage sales to a persistent fox doing his best to find some dinner.

What? You don’t know about Shaun? Well, let’s remedy that!

Shaun the Sheep is a stop-motion animated series from Aardman Animations, the studio behind such great features as Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit, Chicken Run, and Flushed Away. Shaun himself is a smart sheep with more than a touch of creativity that gets him in and out of trouble. He first appeared in the Wallace & Gromit short feature A Close Shave when he saved his flock from an evil mechanical dog that wanted to turn the flock into dog food!

The Shaun the Sheep series started airing in the UK on the BBC back in 2007, but started gaining quite a following in the US when the shorts started airing on the Disney Channel. Since then, HIT Entertainment has been releasing the shorts in DVD collections. Each short is painstakingly created frame by frame by the animators working with actual sets and plasticine/clay figures that can be posed in myriad positions. If every second of an episode is composed of 24 frames, you’re looking at more than 1,400 frames for one minute of animation – and each short is around five minutes long. That’s a long process and I have an amazing amount of respect for the artists involved.

The beautiful part of these shorts is the absolute lack of spoken words. Each character grunts, baa’s, barks, or grumbles its way through any “lines” that must be said – so it’s almost more like a silent film than a modern cartoon. The stories are told through facial expressions and gestures, which makes every frame that much more critical to making sure the intent is understood. As a result, you have a show that’s enjoyable for people of any age and language isn’t a barrier. It’s as though Charlie Chaplin has been channeled to a whole new audience.

Shaun is obviously the star of the show, but he has a lot of help on the farm. The Farmer has no idea at all what goes on when he’s not looking, but his ignorance is one of the things that gets made fun of quite a bit. The Farmer’s dog, Bitzer, really runs the farm along with Shaun and tries to keep the flock out of trouble. Shirley is the biggest sheep of the flock and is really an eating machine – and if she didn’t eat it but it was lost on the farm, it might be found in her thick wool coat. Timmy’s Mother tries to keep her baby, Timmy, out of trouble and succeeds sometimes. (Timmy has his own new spin-off show called Timmy Time for preschoolers.) The Pigs live next door to the flock and are constantly trying to get the sheep in trouble. And there are many other characters that crop up now and again to keep Shaun, Bitzer, and the flock on their toes.

Among the seven shorts on Shaun the Sheep: Animal Antics, there were three that really made me giggle as I watched with my two daughters ages 6 and 10.

  • “Foxy Laddie” not only introduces some new sheep to Shaun’s flock, but a Fox who tries to infiltrate the flock in an attempt to eat Timmy. Seeing the Fox in disguise really made us all giggle. And he almost fools the flock until Shaun and Bitzer catch on.
  • “Frantic Romantic” shows that the Farmer really needs a lot of help to impress his date. He can’t cook at all and Shaun has to step in to cook a “gourmet” meal out of scraps while Bitzer scrambles acting like a waiter at a fancy restaurant.
  • And “Everything Must Go” proves what I already knew – that garage sales get crazy. When the Farmer decides to sell some of his produce in a little stand along the road outside the farm, he gets a lot of interest and soon hands it off to Bitzer to run. When Bitzer gets tired, he hands it off to Shaun and Shaun decides he likes selling things… He and the flock manage to sell everything but the kitchen sink while the Farmer and Bitzer aren’t looking!

In addition to the seven shorts included, there’s also a feature on “Building a Pig” that features one of the animators, Harriet Thomas, working with a group of kids to show them how to create one of the naughty pigs out of clay. There’s also a short video from Timmy Time.

If you haven’t seen Shaun the Sheep yet and want something to share with your kids, I recommend picking up any of the DVDs that have come out so far. Shaun the Sheep: Animal Antics continues the hilarity and would be a great addition to any family DVD collection. To learn more about Shaun the Sheep, be sure to check out the series website and watch for other great productions from Aardman Animation!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Forget Me Not

Hi all!

As I get older, I realize more and more that my memory works in odd ways. For example, I’m great with faces but have to work at remembering names. I can remember song lyrics and melodies for years and years, but sometimes can’t remember why I came into a room… You know, the usual tricks memory plays with age.

The new film – Forget Me Not from Phase 4 Films – plays on some of those tricks of memory in an interesting combination of elements from the Final Destination series, The Ring, and I Know What You Did Last Summer. It’s a throwback in some respects to the older slasher movies where you have a group of clueless teenagers who end up paying a horrible price for something they may or may not have done in the first place.

Sandy Channing (Carly Schroeder from TV’s Lizzie McGuire, Law & Order: SVU, Ghost Whisperer) is graduating from high school with her brother Eli (Cody Linley from TV’s Hannah Montana) and all the rest of her friends. They seem to be your typical high school group – sexed up and ready to drink until they forget that they’re moving on with the rest of their lives. At a graduation party, they play an old game from their childhood in a graveyard and unwittingly catch the eye of a vengeful spirit. Can Sandy figure out what’s going on before it’s too late and she’s lost all her friends in the spirit’s twisted game?

Quite honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from Forget Me Not but was intrigued by the premise. As the film progresses, Sandy’s circle of friends continues to dwindle until… Never mind, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Let’s just say that once we got past the setup with this group of high school graduates ready to take on the world, things started moving nicely.

Considering that I haven’t paid much attention to many of the hip, young shows on the Disney Channel and in other places, I really didn’t know anybody in the cast. But I think all the actors had a chance to play their main role and then dress up in a scary mask once their character was taken out of the game, so that had to have been fun. I have to admit I was rooting for the “ghosts” in a few places just to see karma run its course… And it did, right up to the twist at the end.

Though the special effects were pretty basic, they were used pretty well. The shaking and fast-forwarded movement of the monsters always adds a nice touch. As more “ghosts” began appearing, the masks got a bit cheesy when seen close-up. The masks themselves seemed to be a combination of the Ice Cream Man from Legion with the expandable jaw and the creepy girl from The Ring. Definitely a combination that hadn’t been done before. And at a distance, the masks looked fine – especially in the dark – but in the light as things begin coming to a head, they get a bit unbelievable.

Beyond the film, there really weren’t any special features beyond a few deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and a photo gallery. None of the deleted scenes really added anything to the film, so I can definitely see why they left them out. And the alternative ending just expands on what was actually in the film. I preferred the short version without the exposition that they used in the film. The photo gallery is simply a collection of stills from the film and the original trailer was included.

If you’re looking for a new horror movie that takes a lot of inspiration from earlier movies in the genre, you can do a lot worse than Forget Me Not. I found it to be a fun film with a slow reveal that pays off in the end. Forget Me Not will be available on DVD and VOD on May 24, 2011. Be sure to check it out!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other horror on DVD below!

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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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