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Posts Tagged ‘Will Becher’

It must be a marvellous thing to have such a wonderful track record in any field that the fact that something you do is only ‘very good’ counts as an unprecedented career downturn, but this was the position that Aardman, longtime producer of perfectly-honed plasticine-based entertainment, found them in at the start of last year. The film on release at the time was Early Man, which – as noted – was good but not great. Verily, the British film industry nearly rocked on its axis at the news.

I am pleased to report, however, that balance has been restored and that Aardman’s new film, Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon, provides as charming a cinema-going experience as one could ask for, notwithstanding the fact it is preceded by the grisly omen of future atrocity that a trailer for Peter Rabbit 2 must inevitably be. (Honestly, I would never have expected a cinema trailer to bring on the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, but I was wrong. It’s not even two years since the first one. God knows what it will be like if they’ve let the quality control slip in order to make this a rush release. Either I am experiencing an anticipatory shudder or actually having some kind of seizure.)

Let us try to put the prospect of future horrors out of our minds and turn once again to Farmageddon, which is – by some distance now – ultimately a spin-off from the Wallace and Gromit series. As it opens, all is well on Mossy Bottom Farm, with Bitzer the Dog trying (mostly in vain) to impose some kind of order amongst the mischievous sheep who make up most of the livestock there.

However, the area has been unsettled after an encounter between a local and what appeared to be one of your actual flying saucers, and a stroke of fate involving the local pizza delivery service results in a new arrival on the farm – Lu-La, a stranded alien with telekinetic powers, who seems to be one part squid, one part playful child, and one part very boisterous puppy. Shaun and Lu-La hit it off at once, and he happily agrees to help her get home.

Inevitably, a couple of wrinkles complicate this already unlikely the situation: the authorities have noted the arrival of a UFO in the area and the sinister agents of the Ministry of Alien Detection are already closing in – can Lu-La be saved from their clutches? Meanwhile, the Farmer has also noticed the influx of UFO devotees in the vicinity, and – with his eye on buying a shiny new combine harvester – decides to open a rather underwhelming flying saucer theme park on his land, to be named Farmageddon…

It’s great that Aardman are back on form: the new film has all the skill, artistry, and attention to detail one would expect, in addition to the usual utterly solid narrative virtues. The problem this leaves the critic, of course, is what to say about this film that one hasn’t already said about the previous ones.

Well, if I were to be especially harsh I could say that this is not quite as utterly perfect a gem as the first Shaun the Sheep film, for that was a work of art complete and wonderful in and of itself, which worked both as a straightforward adventure story for the whole family, but also touched on some more sophisticated themes if you were minded to look for them. This one is a bit different. You can go and see it and you will have a good time if you have a soul and a heart and a functional brain, but it doesn’t quite resonate in the same way as its predecessor.

There is also the fact that many of the best jokes in this film are somewhat dependent on the viewer having a working knowledge of wider culture – specifically, the science fiction genre (this isn’t even close to being the first film to make a lazy conflation between SF and ufology, so I’ll give it a pass on this point). The list of in-jokes begins with H. G. Wells and goes on to include Stanley Kubrick (2001 rather than A Clockwork Orange, obviously), Steven Spielberg (you can read the whole movie as a gentle spoof of E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial), The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The X Files, and so on, up to and including modern blockbusters. A lot of these are throwaway sight-gags you really have to be on the ball to spot; they certainly make the film even more rewarding if you’re a member of that particular tribe.

On the other hand, I should stress that this isn’t just the movie equivalent of an episode of Spaced starring a collection of animated sheep – all of the stuff I just mentioned is essentially value-added material for those of a particular bent. Lots of the gags are just good gags, delivered with Aardman’s typical consummate skill and work-rate – one of the most amusingly off-the-wall gags is saved for the very, very end of the film, long after most audience members will have left the theatre. They know how to play an audience as well – for instance, what initially looks like a typically off-the-wall joke about sheep firing each other out of a cannon is actually laying in plot for later in the film, but disguising the exposition as a gag.

I suppose it is theoretically possible for a person to watch a film like this one and not have a good time, but if this is you then – well, I hate to break it to you, but we will never truly be friends. Aardman really are a national treasure, not just for their track record, wit, and artistry, but also because they just seem like thoroughly decent people in every respect – this is the debut film for directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan, apparently given the gig as part of Aardman’s philosophy of bringing on their own people rather than relying on the same directors time after time. Like I say, something to be treasured, and even if Farmageddon doesn’t quite hit the heights of their best work, it’s still in the upper percentiles of the films currently on release.

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