What an empire has been spun out of a joke in one short film. Back in 1995, stop motion masters Aardman Animations released Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave.
The side character of a freshly sheered sheep (Shaun) was endearing enough to get his own spin-off kids TV show, Shaun the Sheep (and a further toddler TV spin-off in Timmy Time), which has in turn led to two full-length movies. Farmageddon continues Aardman’s seemingly unbreakable run by, somehow, incorporating sci-fi into a world of farmyard animals.
Shaun is a sheep craving a little bit of excitement, yet is inevitably stifled by well-meaning but authoritative farm dog, Bingo. But all at Mossy Bottom are about to be affected by the mysterious appearance of a UFO and the strange creature that is causing havoc wherever it goes.
While the rest of the sheep keep Bingo busy, Shaun tries to help the curious but disruptive alien find its craft. Meanwhile, the Farmer is determined to cash in on the wave of UFO spotters descending on the local town, constructing an elaborate money spinning theme park in the middle of his own fields.
It feels almost pointless to praise the glorious stop-motion animation in Farmageddon, considering Aaradman have been masters of the craft for nigh on 30 years. The quality comes from not only imaginative and lovingly created motion but the care and attention that goes into packing as many background and sight gags as possible into every frame.
This is doubly so in Farmageddon where, thanks to the rich vein of sci-fi available to reference and parody, there is barely a moment that goes past without some cleverly worked in joke for the eagle-eyed (my own personal favourite being the ‘Milliways’ restaurant).
Even if you aren’t plucking out titbits of humour from the corners of the screen, the core plot and ‘performances’ are a delight, even by Aardman’s high standards. Whilst the commercial success of Aardman movies has been a bit inconsistent outside of their big hitters Early Man and Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep has the ability to connect with anyone and everyone by being virtually free of dialogue. The collection of squeaks, chirps, grunts, and barks that make up ‘speech’ are endlessly expressive and all the more funny for it.
At a tight 87 minutes, Farmageddon packs in plenty. The cutesy alien (“Lu-La”) has plenty of time to go through a journey of fear, curiosity, playfulness, loneliness, determination, doubt, and resolve.
Screenwriters Jon Brown and Mark Burton (Gnomeo and Juliet, Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit) imbue tons of heart into the plot that very simply but very effectively will bring a lump to the throat of children and adults alike.
Even the ‘villain’ of the piece – an obsessed ‘Men In Black’ style agent determined to hunt down the alien – is given a sprinkle of sympathetic back story so that her anguish is also relatable.
Farmageddon is pure filmmaking made to look easy. It’s fun, warm, and cheeky. It’s mischievous, light-hearted, and soulful. It’s virtually impossible not to come out of the other end of 90 minutes without a massive smile on your face. It makes you care about superior farming machinery in a way you wouldn’t have thought possible. Let’s always be grateful that Aardman who, with their fingers delicately animating the earth, are always able to dream of the stars.
Words by Mike Record