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.

Teenage Kicks – Kick-Ass (2010) Review

Kick-Ass final movie posterCast your mind back to 2010 and the comic book film landscape was quite different from today. The early Spider-Man and X-Men films had proven that the medium was ripe for adaptation and studios had smelled the lucrative possibilities. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had started two years prior with Iron Man but had taken a misstep with the second attempt at an Incredible Hulk film, and DC was enjoying a lot of success in the wake of Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Into this mix came a little film based on a lesser known comic that gave the superhero genre a swift kick in the spandex pants.

Kick-Ass is simultaneously a love letter and a giant middle-finger to the world of comic book superheroes. It charts the tragically mundane life of hormonal teenager Dave Lizewski, his journey to becoming masked crime-fighter Kick-Ass, and what happens when he gets in way over his head with the mob. It’s a story that feels very much grounded in our modern reality, with Kick-Ass finding fame thanks to YouTube and answering requests through Myspace, the latter feeling a little dated nowadays but substitute it for a Facebook page and it fits in nicely. It shares a small amount of its DNA with Watchmen which posed the question of what the classic superheroes would be like if they were real people. Kick-Ass is about real-life superheroes too, but it answers it in an entirely different way.

As opposed to the thoughtful slow-burn of Watchmen, Kick-Ass approaches its story with a bundle of exuberant energy and then some. It just throws you in and bounds along from there. The pacing is one of its strengths and there’s something different happening every few minutes. Like a sped-up version of those rides at historical museums, you’re never shown anything for too long and you’re always moving forward. This exuberance is best appreciated in the fight sequences which are often punctuated by thumping popular music; they start off realistic and quickly turn outrageous to the point where they’re on the verge of utter baloney. They’re also wildly entertaining…as long as you can stomach the violence, and those of a queasy disposition should be glad that director Matthew Vaughn didn’t adapt the comic panel-for-panel. Kick-ass mirror This all exudes a teenage sensibility that grates from time to time. Profanity is applied liberally throughout the dialogue so much so that it loses any sense of comedic impact to the point where every character is just chronically foul-mouthed. Swearing can be done creatively (see In The Loop) but it’s juvenile in the hands of Vaughn and Millar. Their characters fare better though. Aaron Taylor-Johnson mixes naivety and optimism to make Dave a likeable lead and Nicolas Cage is perfect in a role that requires him to be off-kilter, in and out of his Big Daddy persona.

Kick-Ass is undoubtedly a fun ride while you’re in it, but once it comes to an end it leaves some niggling issues. It’s caught between two worlds in more ways than one. From the start it seems to be a realistic look at an every-kid trying to be a hero, but in its final act it takes off the shackles and goes full comic-fantasy, indulging in what it seemed to be railing against. The same is true in its approach to violence. There are dire consequences for beating up people that come to a head in quite a disturbing scene heavily inspired by the way terrorists use the internet, but the film still delights in lopping limbs and spilling blood in an entirely playful way. The film wants us to get behind the ‘good-guys’ as they slaughter their way through a small army of thugs, shedding more blood than the mob in the process. Double standards much?

If you can find your inner teenage boy – and many of us still have easy access to him – you’ll like Kick-Ass. I know I still do. It’s a film that is raucous, brash, and completely unapologetic about being so, but it doesn’t quite get away with it. It’s weirdly summarised in the line from Lizewski’s narration, “With no power, comes no responsibility. Except that wasn’t true”. You can go all-out and over-the-top if you want, but it might just leave a sour taste in the mouth once you’re done.