'A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon' Review: Very Cute And Very Fun, But Still Lesser 'Shaun The Sheep'

In an era where feature animation often feels as if it's driven solely by computers, it remains heartening for any fans of the medium that Netflix is supporting artists who are willing to tell animated stories with other methods. Last year, two of the streaming service's standout films—Klaus and I Lost My Body—utilized hand-drawn styles as much as computer animation, using the art form to craft unique stories. Now, just a few weeks into the new year, we have Netflix's latest domestic feature acquisition, the stop-motion animated A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon. Mouthy title aside, this follow-up to the 2016 Shaun the Sheep Movie is a charming, if somewhat slighter return to the rural countryside where the eponymous sheep gets into mischief.Taking its cue from a number of science-fiction classics, Farmageddon begins as a couple of English locals appear to have a close encounter of the third kind with a real, live E.T. (If you think the references to these Spielberg films are glaringly obvious in this review, they are doubly so in the film.) Soon enough, the alien life form makes its way to the farm where Shaun, his fellow sheep brethren, Bitzer the bulldog and the oblivious farmer spend their days. Shaun soon enough gets tangled up with the alien, whose designs on our planet are quite benign. As Shaun gets into some interplanetary adventures, the farmer decides to build a mini-theme park bearing the name Farmageddon. And wouldn't you believe it, hijinks ensue.As was the case with the original film, the plot of Farmageddon is paper thin and mostly exists as a way for the filmmakers at Aardman Animations to concoct a series of manic, fast-paced action sequences. The directors of the original film, Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, only return in a writing capacity for Farmageddon (Starzak is credited with the idea for the film, while Burton co-wrote with Jon Brown). It's hard to know if their absence as directors makes this a slightly wispier affair than its predecessor. Farmageddon is charming and has a lot of funny moments, yet it also lacks the same delightful sense of silent-comedy-style ingenuity permeating the original. Both of this film's directors, Will Becher and Richard Phelan, have worked on Aardman productions before; Becher served as animation director for the studio's last, much weaker title, Early Man.Farmageddon perhaps winds up feeling a bit more minimal compared to other Aardman creations because of how much of its humor seems heavily reliant on parodying science-fiction tropes, many of which are awfully familiar and predictable. Considering how much of the film takes place on or near the farm, and how aliens are involved, it's a safe bet that you can ask "When will this movie parody Signs?" and get your answer about 15 minutes later. The best work that Aardman has ever done — primarily the Wallace and Gromit shorts, as well as the 2000 film Chicken Run — has relied on a healthy mix of thrilling and hilarious action, and some recognizable genre elements. Farmageddon largely leans too much on those genre elements, arriving very late to the party and winding up more predictable than surprising.Of course, the most distinct aspect of Farmageddon is its relative lack of dialogue. Doubling down on the non-speaking dog Gromit (Shaun the Sheep originated in one of the Wallace and Gromit shorts, A Close Shave), there's no real language being spoken here outside of the kind of communication you might find in the great silent comedies starring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd. (In terms of how the film handles science-fiction parodies, it's a striking reminder how so many of the genre's best and most famous titles have iconic dialogue-free moments.) And yet, while there is still charm to be found in how the plot unfolds with just grunts and shrugs, from Shaun learning the backstory of the childish alien to the farmer trying to build a theme park to gain big crowds, it's not quite as enjoyable as it all once was.It is an unqualified good thing that Netflix snapped up the domestic distribution rights to A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon. (The film premiered in the United Kingdom last fall.) Stop-motion animation is as vital and necessary to the future of the medium of animation as hand-drawn and computer-driven styles are. Aardman Animations remains the standard-bearer in the industry for this method, too, and there's plenty of visual pleasures to be had in Farmageddon. This sequel is cute and fun, and an easy way to spend 90 or so minutes with your family. But where Shaun the Sheep Movie felt comedically risky and goofy and brilliant, Farmageddon is a bit dated on arrival, making the kinds of jokes that would have felt a bit old hat a decade ago, let alone now. It's a good thing this movie exists, even if it's not quite up to snuff./Film Rating: 6 out of 10