I wonder what flaw in the general American public is keeping Aardman Animations from being far more popular than they are on these shores. It’s clearly not a flaw in their work in general, since the Wallace & Gromit shorts and feature film were all terrific, and even if Flushed Away, Arthur Christmas, and Pirates: Band of Misfits didn’t quite hit that same high-water mark in quality, they were still thoroughly enjoyable movies that didn’t deserve the lukewarm box office reception they got on American shores. It seems that the Shaun the Sheep Movie continued Aardman’s unlucky North American streak, but fortunately Amazon Studios still sees potential for their work. Perhaps there are animation fans with a taste for the finer things on staff, or perhaps they like the numbers that Wallace & Gromit shorts get along with Shaun the Sheep and Timmy Time seasons on Amazon Prime. To be honest, I don’t much care as long as they’ll give a good home to something like Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas, which demonstrates Aardman has lost none of their technical or storytelling skill.
Like the Shaun the Sheep TV show, Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas centers on the antics of its title character as he gets in and out of trouble on his farm, nominally run by the bespectacled Farmer but really managed by the gruff but good-hearted sheepdog Bitzer. The half-hour special pits the impetuous Shaun against a trio of very badly behaved llamas, acquired by accident at auction when one of Shaun’s pranks goes awry. Much mayhem ensues, with the speed and energy on display being all the more remarkable for being done entirely in stop-motion animation. The show is fast, furious, and funny, and while the outcome is never really in doubt, the joy of Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas is in the journey, not the destination.
If Gromit is one of the most expressive animated characters that never says a word, Shaun the Sheep builds an entire franchise around cartoons with no (intelligible) dialogue at all. The Farmer and all the human characters mumble in gibberish, akin to the “wah-wah” trombone noises that adults make in the Peanuts cartoons, and Shaun, Bitzer, and the rest of the animals never do much more than grunt or growl occasionally. It is testament to Aardman’s skill as animators that they can evoke so much character without dialogue, since Shaun’s personality is sharply delineated from Bitzer, the toddler Timmy, or the gentle (if dim) giant sheep Shirley.
Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas quadruples the average running time of a Shaun the Sheep TV episode, and to be honest I’m not entirely positive that the extended length works in the special’s favor. The show certainly held my interest and extracted more than its share of laughs, but The Farmer’s Llamas doesn’t really have much more plot than an average episode of Shaun the Sheep. While it’s more than amusing enough, it’s hard to shake the feeling that everyone is just running around in circles to pad the run time. It’s a minor complaint, but one that started niggling around the back of my head about halfway through and didn’t ever fully go away.
Shaun the Sheep and Timmy Time both had decent runs on Disney-affiliated channels in the United States, but Amazon Prime is the host to both now (and Shaun also currently airs on Boomerang). Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas is a fine addition to the franchise, and one hopes that Amazon will be able to finally bring Aardman the success in America that they so richly deserve.
Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas is available for streaming now on Amazon Prime.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article omitted the fact that Shaun the Sheep currently airs on Boomerang as well as on Amazon Prime.