The latest feature from Aardman Animations is coming out in the U.S. today — but not in the way you might expect. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is launching in the States (and Latin America) on Netflix, becoming the first film to do so in the British studio’s storied history.
Farmageddon is the sequel to 2015’s Shaun the Sheep Movie, which was itself a spin-off from Aardman’s hugely popular Shaun the Sheep series. It’s animated in the studio’s signature clay stop-motion style, and essentially dialogue-free. Watch the trailer and read the official synopsis below:
When an alien named Lu-La crash-lands near Mossy Bottom Farm, her magical powers, irrepressible mischief, and galactic sized burps soon have Shaun the Sheep and his flock enchanted. But when Shaun takes his new extraterrestrial friend on the road to find her lost spaceship, little does he know that a sinister alien-hunting agency is on their trail. Now Shaun and the flock must avert Farmageddon before it’s too late.
Farmageddon was financed by European entertainment giant Studiocanal, which co-produced Aardman’s two previous features as well (previously, the British studio partnered with U.S. companies Dreamworks Animation and Sony Pictures Animation to make it features). Studiocanal distributed the film theatrically in the U.K. and certain other territories.
Having acquired the rights for the Americas, Netflix is reportedly planning an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run. The original Shaun the Sheep Movie was nominated for an Oscar.
That film grossed a solid $106.2 million worldwide in 2015. Less than $20 million of that total came from the U.S., but Aardman’s films perform well enough in other territories that North America often isn’t essential to its business strategy. Farmageddon has taken $40.3 million overseas since its release in September. In territories where it has received a theatrical release, it has generally performed worse than its predecessor.
Since Netflix doesn’t disclose viewership figures, we’re unlikely to know just how widely the sequel will be seen. As streamers become increasingly active in distribution, box office stats are becoming less useful as universal metrics of success: it’s hard to compare the grosses of a film with a global theatrical roll-out and one that’s split across cinemas and streaming platforms.
Farmageddon is the first feature to come out of Aardman since a number of momentous changes at the studio. In 2018, its founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton announced that they were giving the company’s 140 employees a majority-ownership stake in Aardman — an unusual move for such a high-profile company. Sproxton subsequently stepped down as managing director and was replaced by Sean Clarke. In November, the company announced its first original project for Netflix, the half-hour holiday special Robin Robin.
Will Becher and Richard Phelan, two Aardman veterans (in the animation and story departments, respectively), are making their feature directorial debuts on Farmageddon. The producer is Paul Kewley, with Richard Beek co-producing. Mark Burton and Jon Brown wrote the script from an idea by Richard Starzak, who co-directed Shaun the Sheep Movie and has been at Aardman since the 1980s. Although the character of Shaun was created by Nick Park (of Wallace & Gromit fame), Starzak spearheaded the tv show that made the sheep a star.
Farmageddon has been well received, netting a 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes (at the time of writing). Here’s what U.S. critics are saying:
David Ehrlich gives the film a B+ in Indiewire, praising its old-school artisanal feel:
Splitting the difference between silent cinema slapstick and the cartoon roguishness of Benny Hill, this is still the kind of old-fashioned, all-ages entertainment that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore; it’s still the kind of film in which a farm animal wears a trenchcoat and disguises himself as a tall human so that he can pay a pizza delivery man. If the scope of Aardman’s Spielberg-inflected adventure seems cosmically vast at first, the beauty of Farmageddon is that even its biggest moments feel handcrafted. Sometimes you can actually see the thumbprints.
Like several other reviewers, The New York Times’s Jason Bailey compares the film to the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton:
As with those silent classics, the Shaun films boil down to their set pieces, and while none in the new film approach the Tati-esque perfection of the restaurant scene in Shaun the Sheep Movie, Farmageddon features plenty of inspired, boomeranging slapstick, executed with clockwork precision. It’s a very funny movie — and an endlessly, refreshingly cheerful one, which is just as rare.
Writing in Screen Rant, Sandy Schaefer finds new resonances in the film’s themes:
[T]he sequel isn’t quite as free-wheeling as the first movie, narrative-wise. Even so, [the writers] manage to bring out some unexpected depth in Shaun by making Lu-La — who’s an adorable addition to the loveable miscreants of Mossy Bottom Farm — a child, forcing Shaun to act like the responsible party for once.
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club is less impressed, comparing the film unfavorably to Aardman’s previous work:
The plot is a formulaic formality; it doesn’t sustain the light pace of a Shaun the Sheep episode, but also never reaches the zaniness of the original Wallace & Gromit shorts. And there are pop-culture references (the death knell of animated comedy, we’ve been told) in nearly every scene, even if none of them date from this century.