Does anyone do claymation better than Bristol-based studio Aardman Animations? As good as I think they are, I do keep my figures crossed and hope that their latest feature is a commercial and, more importantly for the studio, a financial success. As silent film actress Marie Dressler puts it so perfectly, “You’re only as good as your last picture”. So is a movie about Shaun the mischievous little sheep the best choice for their next movie?
Let me start of by saying I’m not biased to stop motion. Anyone who has ever seen Flushed Away or Arthur Christmas knows that the studio is more than capable of making a CG movie. But the studios last clay-mation outing was Pirates: Band of Misfits (known as Pirates: In an Adventure with Scientists in the UK). Audiences liked it but not too many people had heard of it. But with any luck you’ve heard of Wallace and Gromit. This duo has given us four short films and one feature-length film in 2005. I’m happy to say that this movie was a great success. It gained mass critical acclaim and outstanding box-office results. Not to mention bagging an Academy Award for best animated feature (or maybe they should just count themselves lucky that they weren’t up against Disney or Pixar that year). So how can Aardman take advantage of this success? Easy. Make another movie about the cracking-contraption-making duo. Okay, so there’s no news of this happening. Yet. But we do get the next best thing. A movie about Shaun the loveable sheep from the Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave.
Let me take you back to 1995 for a moment. A Close Shave had been released at Christmas and Shaun the Sheep merchandise was everywhere. There were coffee mugs, shower curtains and many many cuddly keychains. Whether it was his general fluffiness or the character’s audacious attitude to life, it’s no question that this guy was popular. So in 2007 he was given his own television show aptly named Shaun the Sheep, which centers around his comical shenanigans and escape attempts. His popularity is, without question, growing rapidly. He’s about to enjoy his fifth season on television this year, and has a particularly strong following in Germany and Japan. There’s even a spin-off for pre-schoolers called Timmy Time about a lamb from the same farm as Shaun who is just as unruly and lovable. And I must give an honorable mention to the 2012 Olympic specials The Championsheeps simply because the title is genius.
So perhaps it is not the next best move in terms of what the studio can give us creatively, but maybe it’s the most natural and practical move. Following the success of the short and the shows we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re getting a full-length movie and a thirty-minute Christmas special about Shaun. It is time for Gromit to be pushed gently aside for a moment so that Shaun may continue to shine in his not-so-sheepish spotlight. But with any luck the audience will recognize the hand-made style and gentle substance of the new movie and say, “Aren’t these the guys who did Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run?” Thus, hopefully gaining the studio more recognition to place them squarely and more prominently on the animation map.