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Review: Shaun the Sheep returns with ‘Farmageddon’ on its mind

A charming film with a clunky title, “A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” is an animated feature that is as light on its feet as it is labor intensive.

The latest production from the wizards at Britain’s Aardman Animation, “Farmageddon” is yet another milestone in the stop motion career of said Sheep, first seen as almost an afterthought in 1995’s Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit caper “A Close Shave.”

Cut to today, when Shaun has 150 episodes of a TV series and a previous feature (“Shaun The Sheep,” what else?) to his credit, not to mention branded merchandise galore and theme parks in Sweden, Australia and Japan, with more to come.

Shaun, however, is not one to let success go to his head. Though the backdrop of this latest escapade is the most elaborate yet — think invaders from outer space, albeit genial ones — Shaun remains the sharpest sheep in the fold, the perfect hero for a silly put playful film that puts a smile on your face in a major way.

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The ability of the Shaun films to be lighthearted is all the more unexpected when you realize how much work goes into physically manipulating the small figures one frame at a time.

Aardman estimates that on average two seconds of animation is produced per animator per day, which is why films like “Shaun” take on average three years to turn out despite having several dozen shooting teams going at once.

As co-directed by Will Becher and Richard Phelan from a script by Mark Burton and Jon Brown, “Farmageddon” starts out with the denizens of Mossy Bottom farm just outside the bucholic burg of Mossingham unaware of the momentous doings about to come their way.

Shaun and his fellow sheep are always out to have a little fun — a scene of them managing to order a takeout pizza is especially engaging — while exasperated sheepdog Bitzer tirelessly attempts to maintain order.

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As to the nameless farmer, quite possibly a country cousin of earlier Aardman hero Wallace, he continues to cluelessly imagine that he’s in charge of this very antic farm.

A scene from ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon’
A scene from “Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.”
(Chris Johnson/Netflix)

That all these characters and then some have distinct personalities is all the more remarkable because no one uses actual words, instead making do quite nicely with assorted grunts, groans and indefinable grumbles.

Meanwhile, closer to central Mossingham, the town’s “Visitors Welcome” sign is being taken literally. While a befuddled local looks on, a spaceship with a classic 1950s science fiction look makes an awkward landing.

That vessel is not the only reference to science fiction past “Farmageddon” indulges in, with brief, amusing cinematic tributes to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.,” “2001” and even “Alien” popping up with regularity.

Lu-la, the alien who alights from the ship, is not a fierce invader but a creature both childish and sweet, though not lacking in powers like the ability to make objects levitate.

Lu-la also has a passion for earthbound junk food, and when she follows that takeout pizza to the farm, she encounters Shaun and the two become fast friends. So when Lu-la expresses an E.T.-like desire to return home, of course Shaun agrees to help.

Standing in the way is an all-business government agent named Agent Red, a key operative for MAD (Ministry of Alien Detection), who heads a team of lunkheaded minions in yellow Hazmat suits and turns out to have a very personal reason for wanting to keep Lu-la around.

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Meanwhile, giving the film its name, back at Mossy Bottom the farmer has gotten the dim-bulb idea of opening a theme park called Farmageddon to capitalize on all the tourists flocking to town to catch a glimpse of the alien. It does not go well.

Catchy pop tunes are always part of Shaun the Sheep presentations, and the new film even showcases a “Farmageddon Remix” of a classic from the last film, “Life’s A Treat With Shaun The Sheep.” It was true back then, and it remains true this time around.

'Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon'
Rated: G

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 14, Laemmle Glendale, Glendale; also available on Netflix


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