Directors: Will Becher, Richard Phelan
Having debuted in the beloved Wallace & Gromit short A Close Shave, Shaun The Sheep has gone on to become the figurehead of Aardman’s efforts catering specifically to a younger audience. His TV show is a hit around the world and he already has one feature under his belt. Farmageddon is his second solo venture into cinemas, and its every bit as charming as you’d hope.
There’s something wonderfully tactile about stop-motion animation at Aardman’s level. There’s a certain sophistication to it when you’re this kind of company (see also Laika), but you can still feel the life breath put into every frame. It’s a medium that translates its own effort to the viewer; another layer to appreciate.
This time around, Shaun is about to have a close encounter. A spaceship has landed near his rural home on Mossy Bottom Farm and a simply designed and rather sweet little alien is loose. This nameless character – the real star of the movie – has a fondness for hot chips, pizza and a knack for mimicking any sound it hears. Cue all manner of hijinx.
Though there is an excursion or two into outer space (at the great expense of the International Space Station), Farmageddon largely remains earthbound, but this doesn’t stop the creative team from finding numerous ways to pay homage to their sci-fi peers. There’s a loving fondness for the greats here; moments which will bypass younger audience members, but which will act as joyful Easter eggs for their parents. Spielberg is paid homage to (especially E.T. and Close Encounters), small screen sci-fi gets the tip of the hat (The X-Files, Doctor Who), while a personal highlight centres around a piece of toast (!) that riffs on 2001: A Space Odyssey.
These are fun moments for cinephiles in a rambunctious little adventure that pleasingly recalls the abject silliness of 2009’s great Belgian stop motion feature A Town Called Panic. It’s fun to see a similar strain of anarchic humour here, all translated without a single word spoken.
There are bleats and bloops and crashes and whoops, but Farmageddon continues Shaun’s admirable tradition of deferring to silent comedy. No wonder this IP crosses borders so easily. Farmageddon is cine-literate when it comes to the sci-fi faves, but it owes far more to the likes of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd in terms of its madcap prat-falling as visual acuity.
At nearly 90 minutes, there’s the mildest sense that this adventure could’ve been brought in a little tighter, but enthusiasm rarely flags. There’s even time in the narrative for some sly cynicism on cash-in capitalism, as The Farmer monetises the hubbub over UFO sightings for his own gain. In the main, though, this is just good-natured and inclusive fun for grown-ups and kids alike. While a moment that borrows its sentiment wholesale from E.T. almost put a lump in my throat. And if you can crack close to this stone heart, you’re onto a winner.