Aardman’s Shaun the Sheep – a silent film star with the chops of Keaton and Chaplin – returns for another dottily daft big-screen family adventure. In his 2015 film, Shaun and his mates rescued their farmer from the big smoke of the city. With this sheepquel, Aardman have seriously upped the ante, delivering a Spielbergian sci-fi epic: an ovine spin on ET crammed with gags (spot the “HG Wheels” sign on a mechanic’s garage), movie pastiches, and all the usual something-for-all-ages charm.
Shaun has just ordered in pizza for the flock when adorable lost alien Lu-la shows up at Mossy Bottom Farm, having crash-landed her spaceship in nearby woods. (For an Aardman figure, Lu-La is a bit of a letdown – too cutesy by half.) As Shaun steps up to help, the unfeeling, robot-like boss of the Ministry of Alien Detection shows up – a woman hellbent on creating a hostile environment for extra-terrestrials. (It’s a sign of the times that even Aardman’s brand of buttery-toast comedy is dragged into politics: one of the film’s directors has confirmed the villainous Red was inspired by Theresa May.) Meanwhile, the farmer puts Bitzer the jobsworth dog to work building a crappy UFO theme park, Farmageddon, in a back field for the UFO nuts who’ve descended on the village.
As in the long-running Shaun the Sheep TV series, there is no dialogue, just plenty of expressive baas and bleating. In place of one-liners, the slapstick and sight gags come thick and fast – a joke involving a frozen pizza thrown into the air and being mistaken for a UFO is vintage Aardman. A little of the personality has been lost in adapting Shaun’s world for sci-fi (the Wallace and Gromit movie Curse of the Were-Rabbit pulled off horror with a little more finesse). It’s a minor quibble; Shaun is by no means past his prime.