Kids’ movies come in all shapes and sizes. This year there’s been the introspection and action adventure of Inside Out, Minions mayhem and Paddington’s cuddly cuteness. For something completely different, there’s the Shaun the Sheep Movie, a stop-motion animated film with virtually no dialogue but lots of fun.
Shaun is a resourceful, if mischievous, sheep who lives with his flock at Mossy Bottom Farm. When he accidentally sets off a chain of events that sees his Farmer get amnesia and become a successful hairdresser in the big city, Shaun tries to bring him back home. Wallace and Gromit fans may recognize Shaun the Sheep from the 1995 short film A Close Shave or his self-titled television series.
Animation fans will also recognize the unmistakable style of Aardman, the British animation studio responsible for bringing the Plasticine inventor Wallace and his dog Gromit to vivid life one frame at a time. Time called their Claymation promo clip for Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer one of the greatest music videos ever and their first full length film, 2000’s Chicken Run, is the highest-grossing stop-motion film of all time.
The beauty of their work is that while it’s generally aimed at kids it tickles funny bones young and old. What’s the secret to their success?
“We don’t make animated films,” says founder Peter Lord. “We make films that happen to be animated.”
Here’s a look at my favourite Aardman films.
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
The story takes place days before the annual Giant Vegetable Competition. Wallace and Gromit’s pest control company — Anti-Pesto — must do battle with a floppy-eared mutant rabbit who is nibbling on all the oversized vegetables.
The film is loaded with fanciful Rube Goldberg-like contraptions, visual gags, bad puns — the cheese-loving Wallace’s bookshelf features titles like East of Edam and Grated Expectations — and double-entendres for the parents in the audience. There is at least one pretty good in-joke in there for film geeks too — a snippet of Art Garfunkel’s song Bright Eyes, from the rabbit-themed cartoon Watership Down, is heard on a car stereo. Park also tips his hat to the British love of gardening, King Kong and the Hammer Horror movies.
Pirates! Band of Misfits
It’s not every kid’s flick that features Queen Victoria, the Elephant Man and Charles Darwin. Pirates! Band of Misfits, however, isn’t like most kids’ movies. It’s splendid side-splitting swashbuckling fun that mixes gentle family friendly humour, with some absurdist Monty Python style gags and Aardman’s usual whimsy. There is so much going on here you may want to see this more than once to catch all the sight gags and throwaway lines on offer.
For the first time ever, Aardman put their clay figures into storage and took a step into the 21st century, making a film that looks a great deal like one of their homemade stop-motion extravaganzas, but is actually computer animated. Flushed Away, the story of an upper class pet mouse flushed down the loo by a bullying rat, features great animation, an all-star British voice cast and something that all kids love — toilet humour.
It swirls along at quite a clip, effortlessly mixing literate verbal and visual jokes — we glimpse a cockroach reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis — with potty humour that’ll appeal to the kids.