By Troy Ribeiro
“Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon”; Voice Cast: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Amalia Vitale; Direction: Richard Phelan & Will Becher; Rating: *** (three stars)
There is something amiable about “Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon” that keeps you hooked to the screen despite its narrative being virtually wordless and containing a mixed bag of gags.
The premise of the film is about an unlikely friendship between an earthling and an extra-terrestrial, a theme that one has oft-seen on screen.
The narrative follows Shaun the Sheep (Fletcher) and the rest of the flock on Mossy Bottom Farm in Mossingham, where they live under the weary guardianship of Farmer John’s strict, watchdog Bitzer (Sparkes).
A wonky UFO crashlands nearby. Lu-la (Vitale), its sole, extra-terrestrial traveller seems lost and Shaun and his gang swiftly and literally take her into their fold. They very discreetly try to help her return to her ship and contact home.
Lu-la is a toddler and thus is a natural and adorable match for Shaun.
This secretive activity on the farm alerts Bitzer to investigate what the sheep are up to this time. Meanwhile, Shaun’s opportunistic owner, Farmer John (Sparkes) cashes on in the UFO craze by creating a “Farmageddon” theme park. In the nearby village, the sinister Federal Agent Red (Harbour) is at work, following clues and trying to get, to the bottom of things.
The plot ensues madcap games of escape and disguise, where each strand is fully formed without the need for any dialogue. In fact it parodies an “X-Files”-style encounter with alien life and has threads from films like “Alien” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
The sight gags merge with cheeky wordplay that includes a joke featuring an actual bull in a china shop.
Each character — human, animal, extra-terrestrial and technological — has its own personality and agenda, so we can relate to them. Thus, every character is inevitably lovable. Each of them is hapless in his or her own way. Everything that happens is just a little out of control, hence the mayhem. While the characters mumble nonsense to each other, they convey everything that the audience needs to know, including the backstories that add surprising doses of emotion to each plot thread.
The great pleasure of this film’s bright, largely wordless slapstick is that it caters to everybody, whilst accommodating obsessive and idiosyncratic detailing at the edges. The stop-motion animation is impeccably orchestrated and the animators remember both the elaborate scale as well as the tiniest twitch of an eyelid, which of course makes everything that happens both utterly ridiculous and surprisingly engaging.
What adds to the excitement of the colourful visuals is the overwhelming sound design that keeps you enthralled. While young kids would definitely find this film adorable, adults would find themselves amused despite bouts of drag.