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: 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: Shaun the Sheep: Sheep on the Loose

Hi there…

If any of you are fans of Wallace and Gromit or Chicken Run, you’ve probably heard of Shaun the Sheep. Or if you have kids and watch the short episodes that appear on the Disney Channel, you’ve probably heard of or even seen Shaun the Sheep, which seems to air between other shows. The stop-motion animated series is about a flock of sheep on a farm and the trouble they get into in their daily lives.

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.

Aardman Animations uses traditional stop-motion animation to create their shorts. That means 12 pictures are shot with small models and sets for every second of air time. For a 5 minute episode of Shaun the Sheep, you’re looking at about 3600 pictures that are then shown sequentially to provide the illusion of movement. It’s a ton of work and Aardman has done an amazing job with their shorts, television series, and movies over the last 30 years, gaining quite a worldwide following here in the US since the mid-90s.

The Shaun the Sheep series focuses on a small set of characters. There’s of course the title character, Shaun. Shaun has a wide mischievous and curious streak that often gets him and his flock into entertaining predicaments. 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.

The Shaun the Sheep: Sheep on the Loose collection contains six of the short 5-minute episodes, including “Sheep on the Loose,” “Saturday Night Shaun,” “Tidy Up,” “Shaun the Farmer,” “Camping Chaos,” and “If You Can’t Stand The Heat”. These are great episodes that feature many of the fun characters on the farm. From the mean spirited pigs who often get in the way of Shaun’s fun to the unbelievable appetite of Shirley, the biggest sheep in the flock who manages to eat everything or hide it in her fleece.

Watching with my daughters, we really enjoyed “Sheep on the Loose,” “Tidy Up,” and “Shaun the Farmer.”

In “Sheep on the Loose,” most of the flock hops on a bus to go to a nearby carnival to enjoy the games and food. Bitzer follows them to get them back to the farm, but that leaves Shaun in charge of making sure that The Farmer doesn’t see that the flock is missing. He employs a number of creative techniques to exploit The Farmer’s bad eyesight to hide the fact that the flock is missing while Bitzer does his best to hurry the sheep home. One of my favorite parts was when Timmy (the baby sheep of the flock) gets caught in a cotton candy machine and comes out in a big wad of cotton candy his mother bought.

“Tidy Up” centers around The Farmer cleaning his house and asking Bitzer to take out the garbage. When the bag rips and garbage becomes spread all over the pasture, The Farmer tells him to get it cleaned up (in the non-verbal grunts and hand gestures The Farmer uses to communicate). When Shaun and the flock laugh at his predicament, Bitzer gets upset has them do the work. As you might imagine, this doesn’t go well and culminates in the explosion of a vacuum inside The Farmer’s house, creating an even bigger mess!

And then in “Shaun the Farmer,” The Farmer is sick with Bitzer taking care of him. So that leaves Shaun in charge of the many chores around the farm. Once again, the sheep get involved to get the various tasks completed, from milking the cow to picking up the eggs from the chickens, from feeding the pigs to simply counting the flock. And as always, the sheep manage to cause a great deal of trouble during these chores. Who would have thought that having a sheep try and use a milking machine on a cow would be so entertaining?

In addition to the 6 episodes there are two features – “The Mini Making of Shaun” and “Building a Pig”.

“The Mini Making of Shaun” shows the animation process the Aardman crew follow to get the storyboards done, props and figures made, sets constructed, images shot, and so on. It’s actually a great introduction to the many steps of stop-motion animation.

And in “Building a Pig,” Harriet Thomas, one of the model makers for Aardman, works with a group of kids to create one of the naughty pigs from the series out of clay. As we watched, I learned some great new techniques for working with clay to form this type of character model and will hopefully get a chance to try it out with my kids.

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: Sheep on the Loose at your local retailer or online!

–Fitz

p.s. Click here to pick up Shaun the Sheep at Amazon!

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