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"Shaun The Sheep": Pure Baa-rilliance!

Wallace and Gromit are undoubtedly stars of modern animation. With four films, graphic novels and a range of related apparel, it’s surprising that a spin off hasn’t appeared sooner. One finally landed in early 2007, giving a starring role to the woolly wonder Shaun of “A Close Shave” fame.

Shaun The Sheep is a series of short comedy adventures set on a classic British farm. It’s not clear if it is set before or after “A Close Shave,” but it doesn’t really matter. Shaun is part of a flock of sheep who are quite content to spend the day chewing grass. However, things rarely go smoothly, and Shaun is often forced into a leadership role, leading the sheep on zany adventures. A range of personalities exist within the flock, including the overweight Shirley and baby lamb Timmy, who may well be the next Shaun. Other characters include the clueless farmer, the loyal sheepdog Bitzer (who often gets caught up in the sheep’s antics) and the bullying Naughty Pigs who constantly harass Shaun. Aardman takes this simple setting and cast of loveable characters and creates a series sure to make original creator Nick Park proud.

Each episode is only a few minutes long and rooted firmly in classic comedy slapstick. There is no dialogue: only animal noises and random mumbling from human characters. This allows the animators to shine, as the personality and humour rely solely on the animation. It’s amazing how much emotion a simple tweak of the eyes can convey.

As the show is primarily aimed at children, it hasn’t got deep, evolving plotlines. Most episodes use the simple but workable premise of something disrupting life on the farm and the problem being solved by the end of the episode. This works fine for the show, as the entertainment value is less in the resolution but more in how many pratfalls it will take to get there. Of the episodes presented, my favourite is probably “Still Life,” in which the farmer attempts a painting of the flock. The episode contains a lot of witty jabs at the creative process and art history.

Packaging consists of an average Amray case. In a subtle touch, it’s made from white plastic. Inside the case are two promotional inserts, one covering the various Shaun merchandise and website (including a brief look at the next disc due in November), and the other covering Aardman’s collection of Wallace and Gromit adventures, now with packaging highlighting the debut of Shaun. The disc contains the first eight episodes. Whilst not a bad offering, it’s a shame Aardman went this route, especially after early solicitations implied a full season set was initially planned. This kind of release seems more aimed at parents who will buy them as a cheap distraction for their kids. This worries me, as shows released under such a schedule rarely get a full release. Aardman have said they wish to release the full series, so I’ll keep my finger crossed.

The menus are fun, opening with a peaceful scene which soon ends as the flock come barging through in the farmer’s Land Rover. The main menu has a few sheep standing around watching TV. Choosing to view individual episodes takes you to a sub menu which opens with a quick little animation of Shaun scribbling the episode titles down with chalk.

One extra is included and it’s aimed firmly at the youth market: a sing-a-long. This loops the opening theme song twice over a montage of clips from the show. Nothing to get excited about, but it personally earns a few points with me for solving the mystery of a few lyrics I couldn’t make out.

Overall, Shaun The Sheep: Shape Up With Shaun isn’t a bad release. The originally announced full season set would have been much appreciated, but this release came out alright. It shouldn’t even set you back much, since all the retailers are scrambling to offer the lowest price. It’s a high quality show that showcases Aardman’s usual multi-generational talent with wit and heart. I’m certainly waiting for a second helping.

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