One of the great enduring joys of any movie or TV show that comes from Aardman Animations is the cheekiness and sense of fun that infuses every last frame.
Movies like Chicken Run (2000), Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and Arthur Christmas (2011), and now, of course, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, have all tapped into that very British ability to be both astoundingly clever and hilariously goofy all at once to beguiling comic effect.
Add into that enormously audience pleasing mix a heartwarming sense of palpable humanity and you have animated features that are consistently far and away better than most of their competitors, the only obvious studio matching them heartbeat for intelligently-realised heartbeat being Disney’s Pixar.
Farmageddon is clearly pitched at the younger end of the cartoon-consuming spectrum, but that doesn’t mean it is forgoes a sprightly sense of the ridiculous nor a delightful willingness to have a huge amount of fun with the subject at hand.
Which is alien visitation which in time-honoured fashion happens in a remote wood close to town but just far enough away not to be seen by anyone except in this case a fish-n-chips obsessed man and his dog, who witness the extraterrestrial arrival and again, as you would do if a bright, shining, flashing spaceship suddenly appeared above you and landed in the clearing uncomfortably close to you.
In true Aardman fashion, and very much reflecting Shaun the Sheep’s cheeky joie de vivre, the spaceship seems to have some trouble landing, taking a few goes at landing the ship in an even fashion, a sight gag which is typical of the production house’s willingness to play entertainingly fast and lose with many a sci-fi staple.
And what fun they have with everything from Star Wars to E.T., Third Encounters of the Close Kind, The X-Files, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Transformers, War of the Worlds and even King Kong.
The references are big and small, and range from the visual to the verbal and the musical but all of them are used judiciously and to brilliant comic effect in a film that is less concerned about what an alien invasion could mean for the planet and more about how it will affect Shaun the Sheep (Justin Fletcher) and his merry flock of sheep which includes Shaun’s cousin Timmy (also Fletcher) and his aunt (Kate Harbour), the farm dog Bitzer (John Sparkes) who oversees them all with joyless, sign hammering efficiency and the Farmer (Sparkes again) who see a chance to get rich from people visiting his farm, giving him the funds to buy his dream harvester.
The big joke in the whole thing, is that Faramgeddon is not about an alien invasion at all.
It is, in fact, more about one alien kid named Lu-La (Amalia Vitale) from a very pink planet out in the cosmos, who is playing in her parent’s spaceship one day while they are sleeping and accidentally sends herself to earth.
She is, in effect, an accidental E.T. and from the moment Shaun finds her in the barn he and the flock call home and they bond, Farmageddon is all about getting one lost little alien girl back to her parents.
That’s the heart tugging part of proceedings which is perhaps overplayed just a little with Aardman no doubt having one keen eye on the American eye where there is no such thing as too much emotional tweeness.
Thankfully the film avoids sinking too much into that emotional treacle, choosing to stick for the most part with the hilarious nonsense that is an Aardman film and upping the silliness ante at every turn as Farmageddon gleefully but affectionately skewers sci-fi icons, cosplay-happy fans and and the self interest of the Farmer and people in general who don’t see a wondrous occurrence so much as a chance for possible fame or fortune.
It goes without saying that the relationship between Shaun and Lu-La is the beating heart of the film, but there’s a great deal of emotional resonance to be had in the person of black-clad Agent Red, a stereotypical shadowy government alien hunter who is after the accidental alien visitor, not necessarily because she wants to do vile and horrible things to her but because she wants to validate that the aliens she saw as a girl, and which earned her the laughing scorn of her classmates when she talked about them, are real.
The failure of people to believe her as a girl hurt her deeply and while she and her yellow hazmat clad team – in another joyous sight gag, Shaun and Lu-La are chased by the kitchen team at Agent Red’s secret base (hidden under a shop naturally) all of whom are dressed, for no real reason other than it’s funny, in the same hazmat outfits – seem to be just doing their job, it’s personal for Agent Red.
So personal in fact that she becomes not so much the villain of the piece, though she is in a vaudevillian slapstick kind of way, but one of the emotional focal points of Farmageddon‘s epically funny final act.
Blending out there humour with some fiendishly clever writing and the daffy British comic sensibility that has served Aardman well over the years, Farmageddon is an unmitigated delight, conveying a huge amount of emotion with little to no intelligible dialogue and a gift for just-so comedic cleverness that hits the target far more than it doesn’t.
Making use of jokes that run the gamut from a literal bull in a china shop to a running gag where Lu-La’s spaceship gouges the side of the International Space Station repeatedly to an astronaut’s growing chagrin (we’re laughing; him? Not so much), the film happily keeps moving at gloriously humourous breakneck pace without sacrificing any of the emotional resonance at its deliriously silly core.
If you have ever wondered if an alien invasion, even an accidental invasion of one, could be hilarious, then Farmageddon is proof that it’s possible to make light of extraterrestrial visitation and have an absolute hoot of a time doing it, aided by gleefully cheeky, whipsmart characters, visual gags aplenty and a sense that right will prevail in the end in a way that makes the heart sigh while making pretty every other part chortle until, well, the sheep come home.