Shaun The Sheep: Abracadabra Review
No doubt every generation says this of their children's television but the BBC really are having something of a golden age of broadcasting for the pre-teens. That they are having an equally successful run of Saturday night dramas for the family, including Doctor Who, Robin Hood and now Merlin, means that Auntie is having a much rosier time of it than she has done during previous years. The two reasons for this are the dedicated children's channels, CBeebies and CBBC, the pair of them splitting the nation's population of youngsters between them into pre-schoolers and those in primary school. With the BBC's financial clout behind them, they've seen that quality children's programming need not be thing of thing that I, and thirtysomethings like me, bang on about in between our recollections on sweets, crisps and soft drinks.
There are a dozen or more really good shows that one could mention, including Raven, Tracey Beaker, In The Night Garden..., The Sarah Jane Adventures and Lazytown on import (and even Chucklevision that, with my kids giggling along with it, I now have something of a liking for) that are more than capable of keeping children entertained. But the two best shows on either channel are Charlie And Lola and this, Aardman Animation's Shaun The Sheep. Charlie And Lola has been covered elsewhere on this site, making this the turn of Shaun The Sheep, coming for the fore a decade or so after his debut in A Close Shave, during which time he adorned the back of many a young child what with his success as a backpack. Storing crisps, sweets, library books and a GameBoy is not, however, any guarantee of lasting fame.
But a series this good is. Shaun is as clever here as he was in A Close Shave, his inventiveness allowing him to play guitar, use machinery and magic and even fake a cow out of pots and pans that he digs out from underneath the field in which he grazes. Why he even manages to stand out from the rest of the sheep, which, if you know sheep at all, isn't easy. This DVD begins with Abracadabra, in which the farmer finds a box of old tricks but finds that his magic days are long behind him. His wand does little but produce a bunch of flowers while his table is soon buried under two dozen bottles that have magically appeared out of a piece of brightly sparkling tubing. Instead, he throws the lot of them out, whereupon an eager Shaun soon finds that he has a way with magic, particularly when it comes to causing the dog to disappear. Which troubles the farmer no end. Next up is The Bull in which the sheep find that they are now sharing their field with a big, brown bull who gets rather angry when Shaun produces a bright red cloth to, it was hoped, calm him down. Unfortunately for the sheep, the pigs figure things out and by their throwing a tin of red paint in the sheep dip, soon have fourteen red and very woolly ways for the bull to get upset.
Who's The Mummy? sees Shaun being the only one present when four chicks break out of their eggs. With their mother hen away, the chicks think Shaun is their mother and begin to follow him around the farm. Bitzer has to be inventive. Shirley has the Hiccups. Shaun and Bitzer think up ways to get rid of them. Exploding paper bags, the clang of an electric guitar and a long, in fact a very long, drink of water. But nothing helps. Then it turns out that the farmer, and an open window and a towel tied too loosely around his waist, may have his uses after all. In Heavy Metal Shaun, the farmer finds a metal detector and begins scouring the grounds of his farm for hidden treasure. All he turns up, though, are some rusty old tins. Driving off for the day, the farmer leaves his metal detector safely propped up against a tree in the middle of the field. Or so he thinks. Soon the sheep are hunting for their own treasure and find a giant ring. Unfortunately, it is within the nose of a very angry bull!
The farmer is depressed. Having seen a picture in his farming magazine of a super new tractor, he grumbles at the rusting old machine that he has to put up with. It's a Troublesome Tractor. But then the sheep have an idea. Locking the farmer in his shed, they set about Max Power-ing up his tractor. But what do sheep know about tractors? Shaun the sheep is Sheepwalking. In the middle of the night, the rest of the sheep follow him around but as he passes gaily over obstacles, they have a bull, some furious pigs and a rainstorm to deal with. Finally, in Save The Tree, the sun rises. Well, it barely rises at all as it is now winter, the days are short and the mornings are very cold indeed. What the farmer needs is some firewood but when he plans on cutting down the sheep's favourite tree, being the one in which they stash their swings, rope ladders and other goodies, they mount a defence!
The great thing about this show is how funny it is with each episode containing more laughs in its five minutes than any of Aardman's full-length features do in an equivalent amount of time. Of course, Shaun The Sheep has the advantage of not having to mess about too much with telling a story. Like many cartoons, there's not much more than the setting up and delivery of gags but come the time you notice small details like Shaun's amplifier being one that also goes up to 11, there will be few complaints. There are even treats for those viewers sharp-eyed enough to spot droppings appearing behind those sheep in mortal fear when confronted with a very angry bull. And for those adults in the audience, there's that same bull getting very amorous with a very uncomfortable farmer when the latter finds himself dressed in something that gives him a slight resemblance to a cow. All in all, it makes for a terrific comedy, if not quite the equal of A Close Shave or any of Aardman's other (longer) films. Younger viewers may, however, disagree.
Presented anamorphically in 16:9, Shaun The Sheep looks as good as one might expect on DVD. Colours are as rich as they were when the series was shown on CBBC but with the extra bandwidth afforded to the show, the picture is sharper, crisper and much more detailed. What's best about this isn't the cotton wool (or similar) of the sheep nor the wonderfully decorated sets but that one can actually see the fingerprints in the Plasticine used for the bull. That's not so very different from other Aardman shows, particularly the likes of the dressed-down Creature Comforts, but this is pretty good-looking anyway. It's noticeably a little better than it was on digital broadcast television but, having been given the benefit of the bandwidth available on DVD, that shouldn't be surprising. The only audio soundtrack available on the disc is DD2.0 and it sounds good, if never actually doing anything more than presenting the action and dialogue as it did when on television. Finally, there are English subtitles.
The only extra material on this DVD is a feature called Meet The Animals (4m20s), which sees a group of very well-mannered children having free roam of the Aardman studios to introduce us to the cast of Shaun The Sheep. Their little beginner's guide to the series is a whole lot more interesting than had it featured a more familiar CBBC face.