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!

Enhanced by Zemanta

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!

Enhanced by Zemanta