Farmageddon sees Shaun and the flock back on the big screen after the success of the Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015). From the Star Trek title credits to the Aliens finale, it’s sci-fi-literate and silly. Wildly creative, with blink-and-miss-it sight gags, it’s a modern-day silent movie. With noises.
At Mossy Bottom Farm, Shaun and the other sheep are barely kept under control by farm dog Bitzer. Slapping ‘no this’ and ‘no that’ notices all over the place, Bitzer’s denying them any fun. And grazing on grass is no substitute for pizza. But a takeaway order brings Shaun more trouble than he bargained for when a runaway alien, Lu-La, hitches a ride on the delivery boy’s bike.
With the countryside going crazy over alien sightings, Farmer sees moolah in creating a low-fi sci-fi theme park – Farmageddon. But nerds aren’t the only ones interested. The Ministry of Alien Detection (MAD), headed by the men-in-black-clad Agent Red, is out to catch Lu-La. It’s up to Shaun to get the E.T. home.
Farmageddon crams in more adventure, jokes and scrapes than most other movies put together. With Aardman’s winsomely madcap British sense of humour, it’s a riotous 86 minutes. The studio’s always loved science fiction – from Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Day Out to the alien episodes of Shaun’s small screen series.
No wonder Chaplin’s Modern Times is referenced. Charlie’s silent movies, using daft vocal noises instead of dialogue, even when the Talkies came in, is an inspiration for Shaun the Sheep. Here, the chat-free movie is glutted with great voice talent and rammed with word-jokes: from the ‘H G Wheels’ garage sign to the falling-down letters of the ‘Farmageddon’ billboard, spelling-out ‘NO’ as the baddie takes a tumble.
A hungry Lu-La guzzles sweets and pop in a supermarket. Hyped on sugar, mayhem ensues. Typical of Aardman’s eclectic humour, the scene features both a Jaws joke and an inevitably loud belch that even startles a lion in the Serengeti. Equally you could revel in the combine harvester-spaceship mash-up. Or the sheep-as-men dress-up that worked so well in the first movie. Too good a gag not to repeat here.
Bitzer cleaning a window thinks a reflected, incoming frisbee is a smut on the glass. A keypad sounds the Close Encounters five-tone tune. A voice-code operates to the whistled X-Files music. A slop-trough looks like the obelisk in 2001. A scarfed-up Dr Who emerges from a Portaloo. The mechanised body-armour from the climax of Aliens is nicely sent-up. See it twice, you’d still not catch all the riffs.
And yet Farmageddon, pacey though it is, doesn’t reach the giddy heights of Wallace and Gromit’s Curse of the Were-Rabbit or the Wrong Trousers’ train chase. And what’s with the sappy/soppy pop songs? Detracting from the otherwise understated take-it-or-leave-it storytelling, they stick out like lumpy plasticine.
A lovely touch with Aardman’s movies, though, and with Shaun in particular, is that no one comes off badly. Even the baddie has a backstory – brilliantly sketched with a beautiful economy of expression.
Farmageddon is a compendium of cinema. Happily, it’s cracking entertainment too.