REVIEW

Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon is Aardman's fun new claymation comedy

Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon. (G).

3 stars

There are a number of stories in show business of bit players outshining their lead cast and surpassing them - think Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise. There are many instances of spin-off television series outdistancing the shows that spawned them - Xena from Hercules, Next Generation from Star Trek.

 Lu-La, left and Shaun in A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon. Picture: STUDIOCANAL Australia

Lu-La, left and Shaun in A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon. Picture: STUDIOCANAL Australia

Shaun the Sheep was a bit player in the 1995 Aardman Animation short A Close Shave, which starred Wallace and Gromit. The Shaun the Sheep animated series ran to 150 episodes from 2007 before two films in 2015 - the Oscar-nominated feature The Shaun the Sheep Movie, and the TV special The Farmer's Llamas.

It's a genuine success story.

This time around on his big-screen sequel, Shaun the Sheep's farm in the English countryside town of Mossy Bottom is invaded by an alien.

Lu-La is a toddler from another solar system who has accidentally hijacked her parent's space ship and finds herself marooned among Shaun the Sheep's ovine brethren, who are charmed by their new extra terrestrial pal.

On Lu-La's trail is the bossy farm dog Bitzer and a very serious set of government officials from the Ministry of Alien Detection, while Farmer John is attempting to turn Shaun's farm into a theme park to capitalise on the crop circles Lu-La's UFO has inadvertently burned into his fields.

Shaun is Charlie Chaplin-like in his silent democratic approach to the funny and the sincere, and over their nearly three decades Aardman have perfected the stop-motion that allows this.

This is a film for all ages, but also for all nationalities, as the characters - animal, human and alien - don't speak in any discernible language

The moments I love the most are detecting hints of finger and thumbprints on the anthropomorphic faces of their characters.

In the film's opening scenes we are treated to a series of gags about Shaun coming up with fun shenanigans to kill the boredom of life on the farm.

As a lost toddler, the shiny Lu-La is a fantastic character that roots the film with a warm emotional core and bringing a new set of gags for the younger viewers.

This is a film for all ages, but also for all nationalities, as the characters - animal, human and alien - don't speak in any discernible language.

Instead, the dialogue or intent is communicated through movement, through slapstick.

It takes a clever writer to convey this level of charming empathy without any dialogue, with the directors of the first Shaun feature, Richard Starzak and Mark Burton, taking on writing duties and handing the director chair to Will Becher and Richard Phelan.

For the pop-culturally aware grown-up, there's endless visual references - the supermarket Lu-La trashes is called Milliways, a garage is called HG Wheels, Farmer John looks like he's pulled straight from a Ken Loach film, and there is a newspaper headline that I gasped at.

Aardman is old-school pre-Brexit Brit comedy told through plasticine and I'm here for it.

This story Charming British slapstick comedy first appeared on The Canberra Times.