Shaun the Sheep: Off the Baa!

  Shaun the Sheep
  Off the Baa!

  3 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

Okay, call me a muttonhead, but a cartoon cult built around a silent sheep?

Well, surprise! It's not baaaaaad...

"Shaun the Sheep" is a spin off of the award-winning claymation series "Wallace and Gromit." Like its parent series, "Shaun" contains virtually no dialogue - even the human characters communicate with grrs, arrgh and aaahs. But there are enough sight gags and slapstick to drive home the humor - think Mr. Bill without the unfortunate consequences, or Davey and Goliath without the Sunday school symbolism. The DVD covers eight of Shaun's 40 episodes, so you can expect more hilarity from the head of the herd.

The 51-minute DVD also contains two special features, video game sneak peaks of "Shaun the Sheep" and "Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures," and "Meet the Animals," a behind the scenes look at the claymation characters that kids are bound to enjoy.

The action centers around Shaun, a curious, quick-witted sheep. You can separate him from the rest of the flock because he's thinner and a sheep's version of a union organizer. The flock is guarded by Bitzer, a coffee colored mutt who likes music, snacks, and stiffly salutes his boss as if he was a lieutenant in the British Calvary snapping to attention in front of a field general. The predominant human being is "the farmer," who's oblivious, clumsy, and as bright as a candle with a quarter inch wick. The barnyard baddies are three delinquent-minded, mud-covered pigs who get a thrill out of getting the sheep's bacon.
A soccer game breaks out when a cabbage falls off of the Farmer's truck in "Off the Baa," the titular first episode. Shaun displays natural hoofing beauty, while some of the other sheep discover trying to head a head of lettuce can be painful. The flock enjoys a competitive game (under the tough officiating eye of Bitzer) until the naughty pigs attempt to turn the ball into an appetizer.

Timmy, the flock's little lamb, is teething in "Timmy In A Tizzy," and only a stuffed bear can keep him from wailing. When the farmer takes it into his house giving it to his ambivalent cat, Shaun leads a rescue mission into the forbidden zone to get the bear back. Some of the episodes funniest moments occur when the cat attempts to tell the dull-witted farmer that the sheep are hiding in the house.

Shaun tries to take the sting out of a potentially dangerous situation in "Buzz off Bees," when he accidentally incites a hive of angry bees into declaring war against the flock. A quartet of freshly hatched chicks mistake Shaun for their mother in "Who is the Mummy?" The little yellow fur balls may look like Tribbles, but they're trouble for Shaun, who rapidly loses sleep as well as the respect of his woolly friends. "Mower Mouth" introduces a goat with a powerful appetite who'll eat anything in his path. When the barnyard trash compactor gets loose, Shaun ends up surfing through the pasture as he tries to corral the goat.

"Fleeced" is one of the more satirical episodes. It's wool-shearing time, and the farmer pulls out his torturous clippers to shear the sheep. Shaun sidelines the shears long enough for the flock to flee in a sequence of events that mirrors "The Great Escape."

In "Shaun Shoots the Sheep," our curious ringleader finds a camera and photographs the flock for a keepsake. But those naughty pigs steal the camera intent on shooting their own pigskin pictures.

In the tradition of saving the best for last, "Mountains out of Molehills" finds the farm invaded by a mischievous mole. When Shaun attempts to rid the barnyard of the troublesome tunnel-digger, the fight is on. One of the DVDs laugh out loud moments occurs when Bitzer attempts to fix a radio with shocking results. You can't beat slapstick.

My only criticism is that in their zealousness to craft a realistic barnyard setting, creator Nick Park may have stepped in it a bit. If you look closely in certain scenes, you can see little piles of sheep dip in the fields. Now that's having a bit too much fun with your clay.

There's no need to be sheepish about "Shaun." I'm not trying to pull the wool over your eyes when I say ewe and your kids will enjoy it.



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