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: 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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PC Game Review: Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures: The Last Resort

Hi there!

In March, Telltale Games released the first episode of Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures, titled Fright of the Bumblebees. Though I found the interface a bit clunky at times, I found the story and characters very engaging and fun. (You can read my earlier review here.)

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

In early May, the next episode of the Wallace & Gromit series was released – The Last Resort. This time, Wallace and Gromit‘s beach holiday is washed out on account of the weather and a flooded basement. However, instead of becoming depressed about their predicament, Wallace designs an indoor beachfront to enjoy despite the clouds and rain outside.

Since playing the first episode, I acquired a gamepad and was able to try it out with The Last Resort. Though I’m not much of an arcade game player and have had little experience with a gamepad with other gaming systems, I found it very easy to figure out how to use it in the world of Wallace & Gromit. The gamepad simplified the interface by providing a single method for interacting with the virtual world, allowing me to focus on the story and not how to get to various screens.

Once again, I found myself comparing the Wallace & Gromit game to the Sierra Adventures’ games from the 1980s & 90s. As you are presented with a problem, such as assembling the pieces for an indoor resort vacation, you wander around talking to all of the people in the world to find the solution. For example, you talk to the Colonel to get sandbags for the beach and find ways to get “sun” and an umbrella.

Unlike in Fright of the Bumblebees, you get to interact with the many secondary characters quite a bit more. Wallace & Gromit open up their indoor resort to the public and have to sort out problems between the guests to ensure that they don’t ask for refunds. (Doesn’t it seem that Wallace is always tight on money?) Along the way you learn more about Wallace’s neighbors and the friendly shopkeepers – each of which has their own particular view of the world. Of course, a mystery unfolds as someone gets clocked on the head and Wallace and his trusty dog Gromit are on the case!

My one complaint about this episode is that the world you’re interacting with seems a bit small at times. At first, you’re bouncing from Wallace’s house to town where you’re only able to interact with a few people and places. And later the house gets a bit claustrophobic as you have to chase your guests down around from floor to floor to make sure they’re satisfied with their accomodations.

That said, I enjoyed The Last Resort and am very happy that the gamepad simplified interacting with the virtual world. It’s nice to use one controller vs. using the keyboard and mouse to find your way.

If you like Wallace & Gromit, played Telltale Games’ Sam & Max series, or are simply looking for an adventure game to pass some time, be sure to check out Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures: Fright of the Bumblebees and Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures: The Last Resort from Telltale Games. Wallace & Gromit can use all of your help to get them into and out of trouble again!

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

Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures is rated E (for Everyone) by the ESRB for comic mischief and mild cartoon violence.

–Fitz

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