Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon – ****

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Will Becher and Richard Phelan, 2019) – Some Foreign Rights – Family Comedy

Picking up from the popular TV series Shaun the Sheep and acting as a sequel to the 2015 feature film, Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon has the eponymous farm animal and his motley flock of misfit sheep coping with a new arrival on Mossy Bottom Farm: an extraterrestrial named Lu-La. Lu-La’s ship crashes on the farm one night, setting in motion a madcap plot that has the flock, along with watch dog Bitzer trying to help Lu-La find her way home. Meanwhile, the surrounding community is abuzz at the sighting of the UFO, drawing the attention of government officials including Agent Red who has a personal agenda in her pursuit of the alien. The hubbub also inspires the Farmer to try to cash in on the craze for all things extraterrestrial by opening a comically substandard amusement park themed around outer space and aliens.

The first Shaun the Sheep is a marvel of children’s film-making, blending to great effect the slapstick humor of silent film comedy with a great deal of heart in depicting the camaraderie of the flock with the Farmer whom they love and depend on. As is often the case, the sequel doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by the original but that doesn’t mean that Farmageddon is a disappointing film by any measure except in relation to a genuine classic like its predecessor.

Farmageddon is a very funny and very sweet movie that uses the sentimental pull of its cute extraterrestrial character to rope in new viewers. This contrasts with the first film which was much more concerned with exploring the dynamics between the existing characters. As such, and somewhat ironically considering it is a sequel, Farmageddon is more accessible to viewers that do not know or watch the original TV series than the original film was. In other words, don’t worry if you don’t know the characters’ backstories, it just isn’t that kind of film. This is particularly important for American viewers, as that country is one of the few in the world in which Shaun is not a well-known property. All your kids will need to know is that the characters don’t speak and they will be able to follow the action, which as always with the Shaun franchise, is very well choreographed to communicate a complex plot without any dialog.

The comedy itself is broad and generally centered on slapstick. It also works very well as there are gags aplenty, including some mildly subversive ones about the various conspiracy theories that are out there about the supposed government cover ups of alien visits to Earth. The humor lacks the sophistication or satirical edge of the film’s predecessor but that will hardly affect children’s viewing pleasure. Adults may find it less enjoyable than the first one, as I was particularly unimpressed by the simplistic use of the Farmer with his zany amusement park, all which was not a patch on his spell as an unlikely hipster barber in the first film.

Lu-La is an interesting character that adds a new face to the franchise. Cynically, I suspect this was motivated by merchandising needs, but you can’t deny that she is very cute and funny and that her story is very poignant. The bonds that she forms with Shaun and the flock are so strong that I heard more than one crying child (in the theater, the film was distributed theatrically in most of the world) at various points in the film when it seemed like she was in danger or was separated from the flock.

All in all, Farmageddon is good family fun and I was disappointed that it didn’t do as well commercially in the rest of the world as its predecessor. Aardman Animations is one of the world’s great children’s media producers and it’s sad to see the company’s trademark humor and stop-motion animation techniques find diminishing returns at the box office. Let’s hope this film’s acquisition by Netflix for the US and Latin America leads to bigger audiences for this film and future Aardman works (Chicken Run 2 is coming next year) and that this distinct and idiosyncratic voice is amplified for generations to come.

Netflix Tendencies

Netflix Stars

Aardman Animations is also making a Christmas short film for Netflix entitled Robin Robin.

Small Cast

As it lacks dialog, the film boasts a very small voice cast, and one made up mainly of unknown actors.

Studio Leftover

The film was originally slated to be distributed in the US market by Lionsgate, who also distributed the last two Aardman releases (the first Shaun the Sheep and Early Man) in that territory. Neither of these did terribly well there, with Early Man even failing to crack the $10 million barrier at the US box office.

Notable Corporate Alliance

The film was financed, distributed in some territories and sold internationally by Studiocanal, a company which I have literally written a book about. Studiocanal is a significant supplier of content to Netflix. Besides library licensing (the company has a massive library of European and American films and series), through its production affiliates, the company has also made a number of Netflix original series including The Stranger, Ragnarok, Safe, The Cable Girls and Crazyhead.

On the film side, the company has sold a number of its French productions to Netflix as original films outside of France, including Bad Seeds, The World is Yours and others. Its Spanish affiliate Bambú Producciones also made the film A pesar de todo for Netflix. The company has also began selling some of its English-language works to Netflix for distribution outside of its own distribution network (which encompasses France, the UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand). These titles include this film as well as The Guernsey Literary… Going forward, this strategy has morphed into one in which Studiocanal is co-producing films with Netflix, including The Last Letter from Your Lover and A Boy Called Christmas.

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