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"Shaun The Sheep- Off The Baa": Wooly Wonder Continues Winning Streak

by on December 31, 2007

Shaun the Sheep returns with more claymation episodes full of comedic wit in a second DVD, Off the Baa. Like the first DVD release, Shape Up With Shaun, it presents eight episodes with a total running time of a little over an hour.

The quality of the selections varies: whilst none are terrible or skippable, a few are less of a solid hit than others. One clear winner, though, is the third episode on the disc, “Buzz Off Bees,” which has the farm coming under attack by the farmer’s swarm of honey-producing bees. In classic cartoon fashion, the swarm fly around as one collective entity that transforms into any number of shapes, from hands to tennis rackets. What makes this really stand out is the existing 3D claymation standard of the show. The swarm appears to be a CGI element added to the footage, which is a nice contrast to all the drawn cartoons that have used this visual gag. The swarm moves very fluidly and keeps great comedic timing, never snapping you out of the moment. It’s an example of just how well Aardman staff understand more than just claymation.

Also fun is the amusingly titled “Shaun Shoots The Sheep,” in which Shaun comes into possession of an instant camera left by a couple on a nature walk. The episode then follows Shaun’s attempts to get a group photo of the flock.

The basic plotlines of the show hearken back to the days of classic animated shorts such as Looney Tunes. Like the Looney Tunes (and like Aardman’s own Wallace & Gromit), Shaun also features a number of well done pop culture parodies. The episode “Fleeced,” for instance, contains one of the most unique Great Escape parodies ever put to film.

The disc improves on the previous release’s slightly disappointing sing-along extra by including a making-of featurette. Sadly, it’s all too brief and light on info. Only three-and-a-half minutes long, it’s a very basic feature designed to introduce children to things like storyboarding and model making. As someone who is pursuing something similar as a career choice, I think it’s great to see something like this get kids interested, but I have to wonder if even they will get much out of it.

Shaun the Sheep: Off the Baa is a decent release, much like its predecessor. It still has most of the same faults, but these are minor, and the A+ main attraction is presented just fine. I’ll be looking forward to future releases, and I think fans young and old will enjoy it this release immensely.

* * * * *

One of the great British Christmas traditions is the Christmas single, a range of jingles put out to earn some quick cash as a cheap present—or, perhaps worse, to be destined to be played in every shop from October onwards for years to come.

A common example is a character-based derived from a big kids’ property. Past contenders have included Power Rangers and Bob the Builder (who beat out controversial rapper Eminem for the number one slot in the charts). Following in these footsteps is Aardman Animation’s most recent success story, Shaun The Sheep.

Shaun The Sheep: Life’s a Treat contains six tracks, each a variation on “Life’s a Treat,” an extended version of the show’s theme song, sung by Vic Reeves. Known in the UK for his surrealist comedy, Reeves’ voice adds a London-geezer tone to the song. This works well with the lyrics, which sing Shaun’s praises as quick-witted, inventive and never caught out. It might not work its way into your regular playlist, but it’s a fun little song and perfect for this time of year.

The six versions include the “Top of the Flocks” mix (a slightly longer and more upbeat version of the title song); the “Wool” mix (a dance-style remix with an increased jamming bass line); the “Whistling” mix (a whistling-only version of the tune); the “Festive Fleece” mix (a Christmas-style remix); a “Karaoke” mix; and an “Extra Wool” mix.

The single comes in a standard thin transparent hinge case with a cover/track listing sleeve insert. The cover shows Shaun wearing a pair of oversized headphones whilst Bitzer plays guitar. This is presented on a plain blue background. Not the greatest cover ever but you’ll easily be able to spot it in store. Also included is a small poster. I was wary of this. Usually with these kinds of releases, posters are just cheap promo shots on the reverse of the sleeve or some advertisement insert. So it was a nice surprise to see that Aardman was quite honest. The poster is loosely linked to the single’s video, with Shaun, Bitzer and the flock jamming outside the farmer’s house.

But the extras don’t stop there. Like most music CDs released nowadays, it comes with extra content accessible via computer. The highlight is a full “Life’s A Treat” music video. It’s a fun little effort, focusing on Shaun and the flock once again staying on step ahead of the farmer. This alternates with footage of various characters getting their Christmas boogie on. Sadly, perhaps due to the sheer amount of time it takes to do things in claymation, some of the footage gets reused more than once—although charming the first few times, footage of a trio of sheep and a fight between two of the Naughty Pigs soon loses its appeal. But overall it’s a solid effort and matches well with the lyrics. And that says a lot when these days professional musicians give us videos that seem like art house rejects.

The extras are rounded up by a lyrics sheet, a “Spot the Difference” game, and four desktop wallpapers. The game presents a shot from the series twice, one with minor changes. You’re up against the clock to find them all. I’ll have to admit that I honestly haven’t beaten this yet, despite giving it my best effort. I’m not sure whether that’s testament to the designers or to my own shortcomings.

Shaun The Sheep: Life’s a Treat is a fun attempt at a Christmas single. It’s not destined to be a classic, but it’s fun and the disc is full of extra value for your money. Besides, it speaks of the true spirit of the season—trying to stop manufactured pop stars from claiming the number one spot. It doesn’t get more festive than that.

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