Life’s a treat with… – Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015) Review

Shaun the Sheep Movie poster“He doesn’t miss a trick or ever lose a beat”

This line, spoken of Shaun the sheep in the theme song to his highly popular kids TV show, could easily be spoken of Aardman Animations (albeit with a few grammatical alterations). Since Chicken Run back at the start of the millennium, the studio has had hit after hit on the big screen, even with the less critically well-received Flushed Away. They have a knack for crafting endearing adventures that delight audiences young and old and their latest effort continues that stellar run of form.

In all honesty, even as an ardent Aardman fan, I had some doubts whether a TV show pitched at younger viewers could make the transition to the cinema. Each episode contains a short story resolved by the closing credits and runs for 7 minutes – twelve times shorter than the 85 minute feature length stated on IMDB. Does the concept still entertain with an extended runtime? Of course it does, and with such aplomb that I’m ashamed I even entertained those concerns in the first place.

The setup is brilliantly straight-forward. Desiring a day off from the same schedule, Shaun hatches a plan to distract The Farmer, but the ploy goes awry and it’s up to Shaun and his flock to locate their master in the big city and bring him home. Whilst it may not have the narrative depth of Curse of the Were-Rabbit for instance, it’s so jam-packed with fun moments that it turns into an hilarious adventure. This, in no small part, is down to the collective talents of all those working at Aardman and their fine-tuned understanding of visual comedy.

Shaun the Sheep Movie flock

As viewers of the TV show will already know, Shaun the Sheep – like its stop-motion compatriot Pingu – contains no dialogue at all. The closest it gets are the mumblings of The Farmer which are indistinguishable as spoken words.Therefore all the comedy must come through expressions, actions, and the careful arrangement of objects within the frame; exactly the same rules that governed the great silent comedies of Chaplin, Lloyd, and Keaton. It’s a visual language that’s difficult to get right, but one that allows so many opportunities for laughs to be packed into a widescreen space. Suffice to say that the creators have a fluency perhaps only matched nowadays in the work of Edgar Wright.

Diversity is also key to the success of the humour because while the film is squarely aimed at children, it contains a range of sophistication to the jokes that will also appeal to adults, such as the sprinkling of clever pop-culture references which are sure to please seasoned cinephiles. This is arguably the best measure of a kids film, in that it isn’t a film solely for kids. It’s an utter delight for those of all ages.

Leaving the rib-ticklingly universal humour aside in closing, Shaun the Sheep Movie is also full to the brim with joy and warmth. I believe this is due to medium of claymation which has a wonderfully tactile quality that is always evident, even thought it’s easy to forget about it when caught up in the adorable character design. You’ll know what I mean when you see baby Shaun. I don’t have much more to say other than it’s a lovely movie. Get out there and see it. And bring as many family members and friends along so you can all share in its warm and fuzzy feeling.

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Sister Act – Frozen (2013) Review

FROZN_014M_G_ENG-GB_70x100.inddFor a long time now Disney has been the major purveyor of princess-based fairytales with the same formula working time and again – some evil is overcome and the princess finds her prince charming. With so many iterations it’s now worn out its welcome and the House of Mouse needs to change with the times. And times have changed. We’re now in an age of greater gender equality, hopefully leaving the archaic stereotypes of yesteryear behind, and it’s therefore unsurprising that films have come under greater scrutiny for their female characters than ever before, with tools such as the Bechdel Test providing an interesting insight into the representation of women on the silver screen.

On this level Frozen appears as a chilly breath of fresh air, telling the Hans Christian Anderson inspired story of two sisters – princesses no less – in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle. As the older of the two, Elsa is burdened by the responsibility of being the heir to the throne as well as possessing some crazy nondescript ice powers that she struggles to control as she grows up. In contrast, her younger sister Anna, having been bizarrely separated from her sister after a freak accident, is more carefree and cheerfully naive. They both harbour a desire to reconnect like they did as children and it’s this sisterly bond that drives the movie.

The more time you spend in the icy world of Arendelle however, the more the cracks begin to show. Not in the animation, which is on a par with the excellent Tangled, but in the world itself. I’m fully aware that you have to suspend your disbelief for a fairytale, but when said fairytale refuses to develop itself within the defined limits of its own setting, it starts to ask for too much disbelief. Unlike a lot of blockbuster movies released today, Frozen could easily have benefitted from an extended running time to solidify its story roots and envelop us in its snowy surroundings.

Time and effort has clearly been put into Elsa and Anna and the film is at its best when they are interacting and dealing with their interesting sisterhood. Their male counterparts play second fiddle and are as such less engaging, but it’s the right move to let the sisters take centre stage. Comic relief is hit and miss – yes to Olaf, no to Trolls – and the former’s frequent interjections are often chuckle-inducing. And the villain, you say? No clear one to speak of. This is new Disney, remember?

Frozen

New or old, this wouldn’t be Disney without a plethora of musical numbers and Frozen duly obliges. The range is a little inconsistent but for the most part they are smartly written and catchy from the adorable ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman’ to the comedic ‘In Summer’. The ones that stand out as lesser efforts have to be the grating troll song ‘Fixer Upper’ and the cringe-worthy ‘Love Is An Open Door’ which is perhaps justified as being needed to set up the film’s radical take on true love. Lastly, ‘Let It Go’ is still a belter being the spiritual successor to Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’, with Idina Menzel (or Edel Dazeem if you prefer) again proving she has some of the best lungs in the business.

Returning to the story, its main thrust is love and just what the heck it is, and to its credit Frozen sticks firmly to it, almost too firmly I noticed on my second viewing as the signposts are apparent early on. But while its centre may be obvious, the spin the writers put on it amounts to a surprising and dramatic conclusion. Along with this unique look, the creators of Frozen have still managed to capture that patented Disney magic and that’s what a lot of people are here for. They won’t be disappointed.

Frozen is Disney’s second confident step on the new fairytale path that started with Tangled, and thanks to its two female leads it’s an enjoyable one too. Which Kingdom will they head to next?