From directing duo Will Becher and Richard Phelan, Farmageddon is the immensely clever, laugh a minute follow up to Aardman’s similarly inspired Shaun the Sheep Movie of 2015. Yes, it really was that long ago. The film is also the apex in the history of a character who has transgressed from Wallace and Gromit sub player to international superstar. Note that Shaun’s first big screen foray won the Bristol based studio box office takings of over $100m. Perhaps part two isn’t quite so faultless as its pitch perfect predecessor but, by gum, it’s close enough to be a fan favourite.
Becher and Phelan entertain prior even to the script’s commencement, with a ewe infused twist on Aardman’s familiar logo. This is followed swiftly by a breathtaking sequence of shots that are, in one fell swoop, hilarious and inspired. It is hard not to feel as though one is in safe hands when the first belly aching gag of the film relies on a smart play on the name H. G. Wells. It’s just the first of a raft of sci-fi nods so richly inventive and abundant that it would leave the TARDIS short on space. This in favour of an extraterrestrial plot that takes Shaun and friends to the very outreaches of our Universe, only to make it back in time for tea.
As things open, life on Mossy Bottom Farm could hardly be more dull. Each new scheme Shaun concocts to spice things up – everything from simple frisbee games to wooly cannonballs – is blocked by jobsworth sheepdog Bitzer. Even the promise of a takeaway night is swiftly thwarted. It’s a dramatic case of be careful what you wish for, then, that sees a UFO crash land in a nearby field, unloading a fun loving alien – the instantly lovable Lu-La, voiced by Amalia Vitale – upon the folk of Mossington. Fun loving, chaos causing, mischief making. You know how this sort of thing works. Farmageddon is, however, that rare entity that does just about exactly what you expect it to, without ever stooping to predictability. The humour helps and winning leads take things a long way.
Also in the film’s favour is a production aesthetic as lushly cinematic as anything to come out of Hollywood’s top dogs. Beyond the gorgeous colour palette, Farmageddon enjoys a stunning eye for detail and earthy solidity, as only stop motion animation can boast. The blending of physical and digital effects here is sublime and it’s all too easy to overlook the immense skill that has been honed to produce so refined a production. This is not just a series of sketches. Instead, admire the creation of a fully functional world and do try not to miss the details. The endearing shonkiness of Aardman’s earliest productions is but a distant memory in the face of such imperceptible fluidity.
Perhaps one could mourn the slight – which it very much is – dip in charm that is inevitable with such polish. Likewise, a very bland pop soundtrack can’t help but feel innocuous next to the percussive originality of Tom Howe’s quirky score. And yet, such quibbles feel pithy to note amid a near endless stream of laughter. Highlights include a very literal play on a bull in a china shop and the priceless moment a frisbeed frozen pizza is mistaken for a flying saucer. Lu-La’s extraordinary, extraterrestrial burp is destined for re-enactment by tots across the world.
Farmageddon may skew younger in tone than the likes of Early Man but excels further in transcending generational appeal. Kubrick nods, and an appearance by Tom Baker’s Doctor Who, will sail over the heads of younger viewers but add just one more layer of perfection for parents. Shaun’s well in his stride and more would be welcome.