MOVIE REVIEW: The kids film you must see this summer
A SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: FARMAGEDDON
Director: Will Becher, Richard Phelan
Starring: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Kate Harbour
Running time: 87 minutes
Verdict: This lamb has chops
SHAUN is extraordinarily expressive - for a plasticine sheep. It has something to do with the way he dislocates his jaw from left to right, as if he were about to speak out of the corner of his mouth, in his reaction shots.
The fact that the irrepressible mischief-maker is non-verbal only adds to his ovine charm.
While most animated animals have the gift of the gab, this ruminant ruminates.
In so doing, he channels the universal appeal of the silent Buster Keaton comedies of the 1920s.
The successful TV star (voiced by Justin Fletcher) partners up with an impish alien (Amelia Vitale) in Farmageddon, his second big screen outing. It's an inspired move by the folk
at Ardman Animation, since Lu-La's gift for mimicry renders dialogue even more superfluous.
The adorable extraterrestrial visitor's magical powers also provide a rich source of physical comedy for the stop-motion animaters.
After landing her spaceship near the sleepy town of Mossingham, Lu-La stows away in a pizza delivery boy's pannier, which leads her fairly directly to the barn at Mossy Bottom Farm, whereupon she forms an immediate bond with the leader of The Farmer's (John Sparkes) flock. Together, they are quite a team.
While Shaun hatches a daring plan to retrieve the spaceship's powering device from the Ministry of Alien Detection's secret headquarters, The Farmer spies a business opportunity in the crop circles Lu-La has created when she takes his combine harvester for a joy ride.
The sheep chorus helps him build a UFO-based theme park to capitalise on the strange goings-on.
Man and sheep's plans coalesce when Lu-La's spaceship crashes dramatically back to earth, due to an unfortunate incident involving Shaun and the vehicle's meal dispenser.
Pursued by the evil alien catcher Agent Red (Kate Harbour), Shaun and his mates must reach the top of Farmageddon's teetering tower to get enough signal to contact Lu-La's planet.
Shaun's long-suffering partner-in-crime, Bitzer the sheepdog (also voiced by Sparkes), is never far from the action.
Ardman's naive sensibility belies the sophistry of the storytelling.
The devil is in details such as the falling letters of the Farmageddon sign, which come together with perfect comic timing to spell "no". The characters, too, are richly observed.
Clever, funny, playful, sweet ... Farmageddon is a contemporary classic.
ET in sheep's clothing.
Opens Thursday, January 9.