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Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2019)

As the curtain in front of the screen opened after the trailers I hoped that the chit-chat and noise from the children in the theatre would settle. The moment the film opened you could have heard a pin drop and the whole audience stayed with the film right to the end, laughing and cheering at all the right moments.

When the credits started and we were treated to the resolution to one story line in the film I don't think there was a dry eye from the adults in the room. You could see us all trying to be subtle about how we had been moved by a flock of sheep, a dog and an alien. It really was Farmageddon

Life on Mossy Bottom Farm is quiet and peaceful. Shaun and his sheep friends are getting a bit bored and decide to take up some new hobbies to keep themselves entertained. Bitzer, the sheep dog, has other ideas, acting as some kind of police-dog of fun. Meanwhile strange lights have been seen over the town of Mossingham suggesting some sort of intergalactic visitor may be nearby. Shaun is not going to be bored for much longer as, when his path crosses that of the intergalactic visitor, Lu-La, some alien fueled "fun" is bound to ensue as he tries to get them home. 

The arrival of the intergalactic visitor is great news for the economy of Mossingham. Farmer John in particular is onto a scheme to net him the combine harvester of his dreams. Of course these scheme requires his faithful hound Bitzer to do all the work and keep an eye on the sheep. Shaun on the other hand is having a grand day out with Lu-La the alien as he tries to evade the Men In Black and keep Lu-La from the towns-people.

One of the joys of Shaun the Sheep is that it is silent cinema with a modern twist. There is no dialog but we get a sense of it through noises and tone rather than words. This is then built upon by magnificent character acting depicting a range of body languages, facial expressions and subtle movements that leave me in awe of the animation department lead by Merlin Crossingham. They bring the cast to life and the small tell-tale signs of finger prints that remain on the screen show the human touch behind it. That touch imbues everything on screen with a sense of warmth and craft that a computer animated production can lack.

Farmageddon takes us beyond the boundaries of The City (Shaun the Sheep Movie) and Mossingham. Aardman deliver this with a mix of computer based effects, some computer animation and lots of physical animation too. Thankfully it all blends together to give that same quality we see and sense when we're in Mossingham. At times we see references in space to life on Earth and vice-versa.

On the topic of references as you can imagine science-fiction film and literature references are everywhere. Of course there are far too many to list or even pick up on a first viewing. I was so engaged with the story and the visuals that I was not even looking for the nods and winks to other science fiction. To name a few 2001: A Space Odyssey, Aliens, ET, Close Encounters, The X-Files, Moonraker, Star Trek (the original series) and Star Trek 4 all made an appearance in different forms and guises. My favourite, where I laughed so much I may have distracted the other adults in the screening, were the Doctor Who moments. They *had* to be there and were a perfect blend of reference and physical, onscreen comedy.

Ostensibly Farmageddon is a silent film and uses the tropes of silent film perfectly (as Aardman have done many times before). The physical comedy, bordering on slapstick at times, is perfectly executed when onscreen or hinted at off-screen. The time left for the (visual) punchlines to hit is perfectly judged. Gags were set up long before the payoff but how they were realised was exceptional. Of these the china shop stood out because it kept on delivering throughout the film.

The Aardman stamp brings with it a set of expectations. You know it will be great to look at, the story will be universal and it will be packed with visual jokes or film/literature references. Farmageddon meets all those expectations. The thing is, for other companies like say Pixar where they too come with oodles of baggage of expectation, for me they don't always deliver on them in the way Aardman do. Aardman make a piece of film-art that visually and narratively draws everyone in, serves all ages and backgrounds without anything being obvious or crow-barred in.

Shaun the Sheep is a marvel and with Farmageddon, Aardman and the farmyard crew have another superbly produced hit. Perfectly timed physical comedy, wonderful character acting, a seamless blend of physical and computer-based animation, a universal story and just the right amount of references combine to make one of, possibly the most enjoyable films I've seen this year. There is a sense of life and warmth about the cast and it is told in such a way that anyone of any age or language can understand and be moved by it. And when the credits roll you'll definitely be in the mood for pizza.


IN A NUTSHELL:  Aardman present a universal tale that spans galaxies but told at a very personal level. The acting and story are (inter)stellar and it is a must-see film for everyone.