A SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: FARMAGEDDON Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Life's a treat with Shaun the sheep, says Tony.

Here’s an experiment for you.

Take all the most miserable, cynical, world-weary people in your address book or phone. Get ’em all together in a room. Provide snacks and beverages to taste. Then play ’em Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon.

It probably won’t help the actual depressives any, because that’s obviously not how that works. Everyone who’s just a moany beggar though? Practically guaranteed to get them chuckling. Laughing out loud. Sniffing. Going ‘Ahhhh’ at appropriate moments. Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon is 100% proof, undiluted animated feelgood, no questions asked, no refunds given. It’ll make your life better. It’ll make the lives of people around you better when they see your slightly dreamy, drifting-back-to-the-best-bits, blissed-out grin. It’ll make the lives of any grumpy people you know better. It’s practically perfect in every way – but without Mary Poppins’ sometimes irritating sense of superiority.

The thing about Aardman movies is that they take all the meticulous filmmaking skills of your Hitchcock, your Kubrick, your Orson Welles – and then they channel them into more or less just giving you a good time. The basic idea of Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon is to smush a bit of ET into a bit of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, but make it cute, and funny, and based around the rural world of Aardman’s successful Shaun character, the kid-friendly Danny Ocean of the farming world.

If a friendly alien turned up on your doorstep, what would you do? For Shaun, it’s an opportunity to have some fun with a new friend at first – especially when that new friend, Lu-La, is a first-class mimic, has telekinetic ears, glows when they’re happy and has a gift for mischief perhaps even greater than his own. But when it turns out that Lu-La is lost and anxious and wants its parents, Shaun extends his role as Earth-pal into that of adventurer, determined to get his new friend back to its parents, its home and everything it knows.

Bring on not only the additional fun, but also the glorious cacophony of sci-fi gags, references, themes and plot-strands, mostly involving foiling the machinations of Agent Red, a would-be alien-hunter, and her government goons, finding the spaceship Lu-La used to come to Earth in the first place, finding a kind of alien smartphone and rigging up a complicated doohickey so that Lu-La can…can…can you guess what’s coming?...so that it can….really, they went and did it…so that it can…oh gods, the suspense is killing us…so that it can PHOOOOOOOOONE HOOOOOOOOOOOOME!

All of this is delivered in typical Aardman anarchic, kid-funny, grown-up-winking style, and with a gift for characterisation that should be taught in writing classes. It’s important to understand that Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon is for the most part a word-free movie. It’s not silent, not by any means, but like Charlie Brown’s teacher, even the human characters, when they speak, speak in a kind of indicative rhythm, without forming actual English words. This is of course a mark of genius on several levels – you can sell it to non-English-speaking countries without having to overdub it or subtitle it for language. It also, if you want to get intensely geeky about the thing, maintains the realism of this being Shaun’s world and point-of-view, rather than necessarily that of the humans in the story. But you need a moment to take in quite how brilliant it really is, because the characterisation in this movie is crystal clear, without a word of strictly identifiable dialogue in it. It’s a masterpiece of characterisation, in fact – delivered in animation, and without dialogue. Shaun’s position in the flock is instantly understood, his relationship with Bitzer the bureaucratic sheepdog and to the farmer is quickly established through character-action, Bitzer in particular being a dab paw with a prohibition sign, acting as the force of domestic authority which Shaun flouts partly for the principle of the thing, but mostly for the fun. For Bitzer, think Argus Filch in the Harry Potter movies – at least at first. There’s something of a warming between Bitzer and Shaun towards the end of the movie, as the uptight sheepdog is dragged into unfolding events, rediscovers his fun side, and ultimately helps the cause of getting Lu-La back where it belongs. Lu-La the ET is rendered so as to be indomitably, even heroically cute, and if there aren’t Lu-La plush toys on sale this very moment, then Aardman’s missed a very rare trick. Agent Red has a complex backstory and relationship with aliens which drives her to do the things she does, which is rendered perfectly without a word of dialogue.

We mentioned the genius thing, right?

It goes way, way beyond just that. Whether this trait arose out of a need to make the most of every moment of animating time, or whether it’s just a natural drive to be as funny as humanly possible before its writers and animators die we’re not sure, but like many an Aardman project, this movie is utterly crammed with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it side-gags. Tiny things, just there for the eye or the ear to pick up while the main action goes on. A rooster who bears a suspicious resemblance to Rocky from Chicken Run having his first mug of coffee of the day, for instance, is funny in and of itself. Technically, in terms of gags-per-moment, job done at that point. Shoving a slogan on the mug that says ‘Nice Pecks’ is just the frosting on the cupcake of fun. Having the farmer read a newspaper called ‘The Echo’ is just a reasonable observation. Having him read a newspaper called ‘The Echo…EchoEcho…’? Genius.

Now slam that kind of snort-worthy gag-rate into the world of the science fiction movie/TV show, and you multiply the fun potential exponentially. The farmer’s jam-makers of choice? Roswell’s. The name of the local convenience store? Milliways? (Yes, we nearly fell off our chair at that one). Local garage? HG Wheels…and so on. When the farmer, convinced that there are extra-terrestrial shenanigans afoot on his farm, turns the place into a space-based theme park - the Farmageddon of the title - geeks gather, and several of them turn up in cosplay, because…well, why wouldn’t they? (We won’t spoil their costumes for you, it would rob you of the point-at-the-screen-and-squee delight). There are visual reference points to some of the best robots in sci-fi history, musical cues that make you go ‘Ahhh,’ whole plot points that render familiar science fiction references through an all-out funny Aardman sensibility. Mostly, they’re there as Easter eggs for the geeks in the audience, of which, if there’s any justice left in this cosmos, there should be many. They never get in the way of the story, but they’re an additional layer of fun which makes Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon reward repeat geek-viewing.

The pacing is perfect here too, and while it never wastes the opportunity to cram some fun and references in – even Jaws gets a look in here, which of course isn’t a sci-fi movie, but if you’re going to riff heavily on ET and Close Encounters, you might as well set yourself a Spielberg challenge and get the shark in there too – the story evolves naturally, based on characters and character-relationships. Bottom line, sheep just wanna have fun, and Lu-La, likewise, as first is all about the adventures it can have in a new, exciting playground. But when Agent Red gives chase and things get serious, the film delivers its drama with as much dedication as its comedy – even if its comedy is always there to undercut any moments that threaten to get too serious or distressing for younger elements in the potential audience.

You should see this movie. Ultimately, you should own this movie, so that when you start taking life too seriously, or life gets serious enough that it starts to get you down, you have if not an antidote, then at least a temporary restorative on standby. I defy you, geeks and non-geeks alike, not to love Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon. Like the smell of baking bread, or cookie dough fresh from the bowl, or the eruption of laughter from your very best friend, it’s a thing that will lighten and brighten your day, your year, your life. It’s the dictionary definition of ‘Fun for kids of all ages.’ Let your Inner Kid out to play with Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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