Tag Archives: Shaun The Sheep

US Box Office Report: 07/08/15 – 09/08/15

The Fantastic 4 are dead, audiences tentatively accept The Gift, Ricki and the Flash got booed off-stage, motherfuckers didn’t go and see Shaun the Sheep Movie, and Other Box Office News.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

We’re probably never going to get another Fantastic 4 movie again.  Not only is the one that was dropped into theatres this past weekend a complete steaming abomination, so venomously destroyed by critics it makes Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 look like Schindler’s List, and dogged by so many rumours of troubled and failed production that the thing more resembled a turd that is being swarmed by hungry flies – hope you’re enjoying your breakfast this morning – even the public wanted nothing to do with it.  Most stayed away, smelling a stinker, and even those $26 million worth of people who chose to brave the cinema anyway despised it, giving it an atrocious C- Cinemascore.  This franchise is done.  Even if Marvel get their toys back, it’s done.  There is no coming back from a bomb like this, the brand has been tainted irreparably, it is done.

So, whilst 20th Century Fox was dragging Marvel’s original super-team through the mud one more time out of seemingly nothing more than spite, Joel Edgerton was making his directorial debut with the surprisingly great The Gift.  Having been promised a horror/thriller in the vein of producer Jason Blum’s other works – namely: Damn Near Every Single Horror Movie of the Last 3 Years – audiences arrived in a somewhat healthy amount and were instead presented with a drama with thriller elements.  Whether or not they were happy about this is still up to debate, but it led to a strong $12 million opening, one of the few unqualified successes of this miserable weekend, and people actually seeing The Gift, so mission accomplished!

Yeah, this was one really bad weekend at the box office.  In Wide-ish releases, Jonathan Demme’s return to directing films for a somewhat mainstream audience, Ricki and the Flash, was unceremoniously shrugged to death by audiences, raking in a paltry $7 million for seventh place despite featuring Meryl Streep as an aging rocker.  You’d think that that’d be something that people would be dying to see!  But at least it wasn’t Shaun the Sheep Movie.  Despite being one of the year’s best films, having rave reviews from critics, and me being on your case about seeing it for the last several months, the film didn’t even crack the Top 10 despite opening on well over 2,000 screens.  For fucksake, America!  It’s Aardman!  What do you people have against Aardman, you cretins!?

Things improved slightly in the world of limited releases, though.  Whilst The End of the Tour expanded to 36 locations and flailed about for dear life with only $253,000, The Diary of a Teenage Girl was making a pretty decent $55,000 from 4 screens considering the whole “underage sex” part and everything.  Jon Watts’ sophomore feature, the pretty decent-looking thriller Cop Car, managed a strong $27,000 from 3 screens, whilst Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, an animated adaptation of exactly what it says, managed an excellent $26,000 from two screens because FUCKING LOOK AT HOW GORGEOUS THIS THING IS!

Also worthy of note is Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’.  The film’s been out since Tuesday and has been blowing people away by posting strong numbers during the week – nearly $2 million on the first day and $1.5 million on the second.  Now, I can’t report anything about its weekend for certain, cos FUNimation have been playing weird “now it’s here, now it’s not” games with it, but Dragon Ball is on course to have earned well over $5 million in its first 6 days, whilst remaining in limited release the entire time, never breaking more than 1,000 theatres.  Considering that Anime doesn’t do well in Western cinemas, that is majorly impressive.


MIRN

“It’s Full List time!” is what my older brother used to say before he beat the sh*t out of me.  I’m just kidding, I only have a younger brother.

Box Office Results: Friday 7th August 2015 – Sunday 9th August 2015

1] Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

$29,400,000 / $108,654,000

Forgot to mention this at all last week, but this movie has one of the most blatant examples of Fridging – the art of brutally murdering a character, typically a wife and almost always a woman, for cheap heat/motivation – that I have seen in a Hollywood film in ages.  Like, good lord, even Tak3n was less blatant about it!  But, despite these things usually riling me up to no end, this one did nothing for me.  I just sorta sighed resignedly.  It’s like when a bratty kid tries to microwave the family hamster; you’re not angry, you just sigh because you know they’re just doing it for the attention.

2] Fantastic 4

$26,200,000 / NEW

I’m done.  I’m not going to waste any more words on this.  Here’s my review, go read that.  I’m not going to waste any more column inches on this thing because, as I detailed extensively in my review, this is not a film.  This is 100 minutes of 20th Century Fox mooning Marvel Studios over the fact that they can’t have their toys back.  You could shoot and release bowel movements of mine and they’d be closer to being actual f*cking movies than this piece of sh*t is!  So, no, I’m done.  Let’s move on.

3] The Gift

$12,007,000 / NEW

Review will be up on my site on Tuesday, but I will say that I really enjoyed this one.  I’m even coming around to its ending, which initially rubbed me up the wrong way for a number of reasons but is growing on me as time goes on.  Make sure you give this a shot, even if you’re averse to thrillers since it’s actually mainly a drama.

4] Vacation

$9,145,000 / $37,325,000

Not too bad of a slide, only 37%, but there also wasn’t much to slide from, so let’s maybe not bust out any party poppers or anything, OK?

5] Ant-Man

$7,826,000 / $147,436,000

Oh, man, I really hope that Fantastic 4’s utter abysmalness doesn’t have a knock-on effect to the good comic book movies.  For one, the last thing we need are people believing that the only way to make successful versions of these are to have white male leads, because you know some arsehole pillock studio head is going to correlate the Johnny Storm race-lift to the film’s total box office failure.  Plus, my brother, who is way more down the Marvel rabbit hole than I am, thought that this was a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and was therefore planning on seeing this until I corrected him.  Just saying, some people are just going to see the Marvel logo and assume they make all of these movies, even the terrible ones, and that’s the last thing they want.

6] Minions

$7,400,000 / $302,754,000

Despicable Me 2 is now on UK Netflix for those of you who have yet to see it.  I recommend giving it a shot, it’s really crazy and funny but it’s also legitimately sweet…

Look, I’m going to keep working my arse off to ensure you all realise that you don’t hate the Minions because of their films.  You hate them because of advertising oversaturation and appropriation by the kind of evil, heartless, mindless drones who force Facebook memes into existence.  *shudders*

7] Ricki and the Flash

$7,000,000 / NEW

Having watched the trailer for the first time whilst writing this piece, I now understand why this face-planted right out of the gate.  This looks awful, like a Lifetime movie inexplicably granted cinema space.  I’m still optimistic, because it’s Jonathan Demme and Diablo Cody and I know that trailers are oftentimes just dreadful, but I get why nobody really turned up to it.

8] Trainwreck

$6,300,000 / $91,102,000

Four more days!  Oh, thank the Maker for this weekend!  This, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Absolutely Anything back-to-back-to-back!  It’s like the Movie Gods looked down on me and went, “Callum.  Buddy, old pal.  Sorry for the last few weeks, and sorry for pushing Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 out of your Bottom 5 Films of 2015 list.  But you’ve made it through with your love and enthusiasm for this medium still intact, so here’s a week of nothing but good-looking films you’re excited for as a reward!  Good show!”

9] Pixels

$5,430,000 / $57,645,000

Oh, yeah, that spoiler piece on Pixels that I was supposed to write.  I haven’t forgotten, I’ve just been busy.  And my interest in doing it has gone.  Heh.  OK, here’s the deal, if it’s not up on my site by Thursday, it ain’t coming and y’all will just have to deal with it.  Sound good to everyone?  Bully for you if it doesn’t.

10] Southpaw

$4,764,000 / $40,726,000

You people watched this again instead of Shaun the Sheep?  You’re all a disgrace to humanity.

Dropped Out: Paper Towns, Inside Out, Jurassic World

Callum Petch weathered the storm.  He now writes for his own website (callumpetch.com).  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Advertisements

The Best of 2015 Thus Far

As we’re now well and truly past the half-way mark for the year, it seems like as good a time as any for a few of the Failed Critics contributors to bundle together and reveal which films they’ve enjoyed the most so far. Come December, we’ll still be running the annual Failed Critics Awards, giving you the opportunity to cast your vote for your favourite films of 2015.

In the meantime, let’s have a quick run through of what some of our writers and podcasters have chosen as their five favourite films of the year. Will the biggest film of the year so far, Jurassic World, be featured? Will United Passions somehow infect this article too? Will anyone pick anything other than Mad Max?? Find out below…


by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

1] Mad Max: Fury Road

mad maxFighting the urge to fill my word limit with just paragraphs of me repeating the words “Perfect”, “Awesome” and “The most fun I’ve had this year with clothes on”, I’ll try and be a little more cohesive in my description. It had been thirty years since the last film in the iconic Mad Max franchise, to bring a fourth entry to a series after that long is a massive undertaking at the best of times. But when its original star is as iconic as the film’s that made him famous, replacing him as well would be a recipe for disaster in any other filmmakers hands. Thankfully for all of us, the series’ creator made a triumphant return and gave us one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. A breathtaking, visceral two hours (on three occasions) in the cinema left me shellshocked and shaking with excitement and almost unable to write my review when I got home I was so pumped. Oh, and there’s a dude on a truck made of drums and speakers playing heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar! No more needs to be said!

2] Ex Machina

3] Whiplash

4] Still Alice

5] It Follows

WORST: Avengers: Age of Ultron – Years of subtle hype and weeks of actual hype in the buildup to this, the biggest Marvel movie yet. What we got was a more than two hour long wet fart of a film that left me blindingly disappointed with a really bad taste in my mouth.


by Paul Field (@pafster)

1] Wild Tales

wild talesDark, twisted and utterly enthralling anthology from Argentina. All of the stories are great, no fillers here as is often the case with anthology films. I love a revenge film, and to have 6 served up in one sitting is a real treat. Hard to pick my favourite… the parking ticket is brilliant, the plane passengers unsettling and hilarious, the overtaking motorist caper that escalates out of all control…..but I think the Wedding. Pissing off the bride on her wedding day is an absolute no no, and here, she conveys her displeasure in spectacular fashion. As a first feature from Damián Szifron, this is outstanding and will take some toppling come the end of the year.

2] Hyena

3] Creep

4] We Are Still Here

5] Buzzard

WORST: Lost River Ryan Gosling believing his own hype, delivers the most pretentious load of cobblers ever committed to film. Utter, utter toilet.. and yes, I’ve seen United Passions, Accidental Love and the new Danny Dyer film this year too. Its worse than all three of those, on repeat, for eternity.


by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

1] Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

birdmanReleased in the UK on 1 January 2015, I still don’t think I’ve seen a funnier, more entertaining film in the cinema all year. Michael Keaton is absolutely phenomenal as the flailing former superhero movie star attempting to reinvent himself as a stage actor and producer. His manic behaviour, coupled with director Iñárritu’s frenetic, constantly adapting story shot as if the whole production was just one long take; I just loved every minute of it. However, I was hesitant to put it as number one on my list, given a couple people I’ve recommended it to have hated it! But ultimately, despite seeing it only two days into the year, nothing else has managed to better it yet for me.

2] Mad Max: Fury Road

3] Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

4] Cobain: Montage of Heck

5] John Wick

WORST: United Passions – Technically not even released in the UK this year, and unlike Jupiter Ascending (cinema) and The Man With The Iron Fists 2 (VOD), I didn’t even watch this legally. But if there’s a more abhorrent, reprehensible piece of offensive propagandist garbage with as high a budget and released globally within the next decade, I’ll be surprised.


By Matt Lambourne (@LamboMat)

1] Mad Max: Fury Road

mad max 4I’m still thinking about this movie, weeks after seeing it. The action, the character, the dialogue, the music and most importantly, the SCALE. It’s over the top in every sense and works for me on every level. I can’t wait to get hold of the home release and enjoy it without the hindrance of 3D. Absolutely superb movie!

2] American Sniper

3] Furious 7

4] Jurassic World

5] Terminator Genisys

WORST: Fifty Shades of Grey Bloated, tacky, overly polished and un-sexy. I didn’t get an erection and I didn’t get a shag that night.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

1] The Theory of Everything

theory of everythingThe Stephen Hawking biopic earned lead man Eddie Redmayne an Oscar and deservedly so. His portrayal of a genius of a man going through various stages of a terrible, life changing illness was extremely believable. The film also put over a side of Hawking you don’t often see, the friend, parent and husband, not the man who invented time. Or something.

2] Ex Machina

3] Kingsman: The Secret Service

4] Selma

5] Furious 7

WORST: United Passions Garbage of the highest order. I found Tim Roth less deplorable playing a racist in Selma than I did playing Sepp Blatter in this tripe. It’s offensive that it was even made.


by Callum Petch (@CallumPetch)

1] Mad Max: Fury Road

mad max fury roadFury Road is the kind of film whose existence is a reminder that this Movies thing might be alright after all, a beacon of hope that we can all look to in dark times and remind ourselves that we can, in fact, have it so much better.  From its uncomplicated story, to its unique world and set design, to its outstanding special effects, to its jaw-dropping practical stunts, to its brilliantly subtle Tom Hardy performance, to its mesmerising Charlize Theron performance, to its openly and furiously feminist and matriarchal heart, every last frame of this utter masterpiece is what I have heard perfection is supposed to be like.  It is everything that modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking isn’t, a purposeful pushback against everything wrong with those films right now that, in a just world, will have everyone following its example in the years to come.  Both times that I saw this movie, my veins pulsed with pure adrenaline from frame one and the feeling did not stop until long after I left the screen in tears of pure joy at that perfect final shot.  I foresee nothing else coming anywhere close to it for the rest of this year, mainly cos I have no idea what’ll happen to me if there is a better film than Fury Road to come.

2] Magic Mike XXL

3] The Voices

4] Shaun The Sheep Movie

5] Spy

WORST: Entourage  I said everything I needed to say about this reprehensible piece of abysmal shite here and here.  I’m not going to repeat myself.

Peppa Pig: The Golden Boots & Favourite Stories

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

golden bootsYou and I are going to die.  If our barely hospitable world doesn’t get us, if our fellow man or woman doesn’t do us in, if a freak accident doesn’t whisk us away, and if a disease of some kind doesn’t turn our own fragile bodies against us, then time will come for us and it will claim us.  It is there as a constant reminder, that we tick ever so slowly towards our inevitable demise, that we will one day just… go.  We will never return to what we once were – young, naive, innocent children – no matter how hard we try, and any exposure to anything not aimed at our age group is a reminder that we will never be that age again, and that the only thing awaiting us is the horrifying, relentless march of time and its accompanying cousin, Death.

These are the thoughts that I had as I sat through Peppa Pig: The Golden Boots & Favourite Stories.  Those of you coming here expecting an honest-to-God review would be better served closing the tab and moving on with your life.  Peppa Pig is critic-proof.  Even by my standards – where I once stated that “I expect a lot because this medium can do so much, and I will not let low-quality or mediocre wastes of space pass by unscathed” – Peppa Pig is critic-proof.  It is not for me, it never was for me – I was 10 when the series first debuted and had migrated over to Cartoon Network a good year or so earlier – and it never will be for me.  I cannot sit here and tell you what Young Me would have thought because I cannot remember that far back, and I am not about to even hint at pretending that I know how your kids will feel about Peppa Pig.

All I can tell you is what I thought, hence the dalliance with my own mortality.  I sat there, near the front of a relatively full screening, watching and dealing with many thoughts and crises of self-confidence.  They had started before I’d even walked into the cinema.  I mean, to begin with, I’d have to walk up to a cashier, as a grown 20 year-old man by myself and not exactly the most clean-cut acceptable-looking human being in the world, and say, “One for Peppa Pig, please.”  They’d have to put on a friendly smile and a demeanour that gives off the impression that they don’t care and there’s no judgement, but we all know that they’re thinking, “The f*ck is up with this weirdo?” because they’re a human being and we human beings judge everybody over everything.  Hell, my job depends on that!

Then there are the parents who populate such screenings.  Our current culture is one built on fear and panic, that there are dangers everywhere that could bring harm to a parent’s precious child, and I know that at least one parent will see me sit down in a screen populated mostly with children and assume that I’m not here for the film.  Christ, I was one of two people in the first screening of Shaun The Sheep: The Movie last week, and the mother of the daughter that she had brought to the film turned around and looked at me multiple times as I was laughing with judgemental eyes that carried a shaming mixture of bewilderment, suspicion, and even more judgement.  As the lone man at a screening of Peppa goddamn Pig?  I might as well walk around with a flashing neon sign that advertises the ankle bracelet I don’t have.

The programme – I hesitate to call it a “film” because the titular episode is 15 minutes at best and the overall thing doesn’t even last 50 minutes – itself did not help matters.  It’s aimed at the lowest of ages and carries a soft, safe, carefree feel and humour that is typical in pre-school entertainment.  It has a crude yet colourful art-style that very much resembles the kind of world that a child would be able to draw.  The dialogue is to-the-point, loud, and restates everything all of the time to make absolutely sure that pre-schoolers can understand what is going on.  It has catchphrases and loud inherently funny noises and is suited very much to the kind of viewer I was a good decade and a half ago.

And that’s what stuck with me.  Bitter, jaded, lonely 20 year-old Me was getting pretty much nothing positive from this experience; young, wide-eyed, easily-impressed and optimistic 5 year-old Me may possibly have loved it.  He may have been enraptured, he might have sang and danced and oinked without a care in the world.  He might have irritated the crap out of his reluctant parents, and then looked back on these memories with equal parts disdain and fondness.  Some of the kids got really into Peppa Pig, laughing and clapping and cheering which such wide-eyed youthful sincerity as to remind me that I can never be that cheerily pure again.

I can’t be that accepting.  I can’t look at the deliberately amateurish art-style without thinking of how Young Me would have been over the moon that there was a cartoon made that looked exactly as good as I could draw back then – and I’ve somehow gotten even worse in the intervening years – but a Me of that age might not have.  I can’t see the graph-paper “teeth” that the characters have without instantly being horrified by how f*cking terrifying it makes the characters look, but a Me of that age might not have.  I can’t witness the Milkshake! presenter links without questioning whether a) they’re all on drugs, b) they realise just how patronising they come off as, and c) just how miserable their job must make them feel, but a Me of Peppa Pig’s target age may possibly have found them delightfully fun, innocent and sincere.

Then again, maybe I wouldn’t have.  There were no children over the age of about 6 – I estimate as a wild guess, please don’t call the police – and the majority of them completely refused to play along with the Milkshake! gang’s antics.  Cries to sing along to songs that everyone apparently already knew fell on deaf ears, calls to dance around went studiously ignored, and almost every attempt at getting a response from the audience was accompanied by extremely uncomfortable stone-cold silence.  I was in a nearly full theatre with tonnes of parents and kids on a Saturday morning, and it was like I was in an empty theatre on a Wednesday afternoon.  Are kids today really that cynical?  Do they really not have time for doing what children’s TV presenters, whose job is to connect with kids, tell them to do, or was I never actually into that in the first place?  Or are the parents just miserable f*cks who won’t let their kids do anything?

And then there were the kids who couldn’t sit still for fifty minutes, who got bored and started running about instead trying to amuse themselves.  How they’d been brought to the cinema as a treat to watch one of their very favourite pieces of entertainment on the big screen, but their excitable and easily-distracted minds rendered them incapable of actually paying attention the whole way through.  One child actually took a fascination to me, not kidding.  She would repeatedly get out of her front-row seat, run about the screen and then start approaching me, possibly in curious wonderment as to why I, a grown-ass 20 year-old man, was sat in a cinema with her watching Peppa Pig.  She tried to interact with me, even offering up a straw wrapper, but I tried my best to ignore her because her father looked like the kind of man who would immediately punch me in the f*cking teeth if I so much as thought about exchanging pleasantries.

I was a man out of place.  I was watching a programme not intended for me, in an audience mostly comprised of human beings a quarter my age, face-to-face with how much I’ve aged and how creeping my own mortality can be.  I spent the entire run-time of Peppa Pig confronting various philosophical questions about my life and frequently settled back on these two terrifying thoughts: at Age 20 I feel so horrifyingly old, and that one day I am going to die.  Despite my attempts to cocoon myself in the things I liked as a child, to reacquire them and love them and never lose sight of my inner child, I can never truly return.  I can never recapture the base level of wonder and enjoyment required to enjoy Peppa goddamn Pig, not to mention how the embarrassed silence that greeted the Milkshake! crew lead me to re-think everything about my formative years.

Peppa Pig: The Golden Boots & Favourite Stories put me through an existential crisis.  Peppa PigPeppa goddamn Pig did this.  I gotta admit that that’s pretty funny, in all honesty.

Also, because I know for a fact that somebody will complain about this not being a review unless I properly review it: it is quite literally just a DVD that they’re charging cinema prices to watch.  Just wait for the actual DVD, then you’ll only need to pay the once.  Take your kids to Shaun The Sheep, instead.

Callum Petch is older than he’s ever been and now he’s even older.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Eclectic Avenue

baftaCallum Petch, Callum Petch, does whatever Callum can – i.e. talking even more than James used to as he swings straight from last week’s episode to this week’s edition of the Failed Critics podcast. He joins your regular podcast host Steve Norman and hanger-on Owen Hughes to discuss the big film news over the past seven days.

Chiefly, Tuesday’s long-expected announcement that the rebooted Spider-Man will definitely be making his first appearance in an upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, on loan from Sony. We mull over potential ramifications for existing Marvel films, casting choices we’d make and if it’s actually that big a deal anyway.

Completely forgoing our regular “what we’ve been watching” segment, as there just wasn’t enough damn time, we instead take a detailed look over the weekend’s BAFTA award winners and losers, as well as the awards ceremony itself.

We also couldn’t have hand picked four different main release reviews if we tried, as the eclectic mix of space opera Jupiter Ascending, Aardman animation Shaun the Sheep: The Movie, controversial comedy The Interview and the Oscar nominated Selma all get discussed.

Join us again next week for a special Academy Award preview episode with more guests, probably more arguments and hopefully a shorter run time!

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Shaun The Sheep: The Movie

Quietly daring, raucously funny, and surprisingly heartwarming, Shaun The Sheep: The Movie is yet another home-run for Aardman Animations.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

shaun sheepOn the surface, Shaun The Sheep: The Movie doesn’t seem particularly groundbreaking.  After all, it looks like yet another kid-focussed animated movie about animals, whilst the film itself doesn’t openly re-invent any wheels, doesn’t stretch itself when it comes to gags, and doesn’t go overboard with giant action setpieces and such.  On the surface, Shaun The Sheep is just another animated kids’ flick, a genre which we are almost literally drowning in at the moment.  However, in its own modest way, Shaun The Sheep is actually really daring and, along with the rather similar in a lot of ways Paddington, a major pushback against the misguidedly dark, bloated excess that ‘family’ filmmaking has recently devolved into.

Specifically, Shaun The Sheep is a joyous, lean, no-nonsense movie.  Much like Paddington, it knows what it wants to be, executes what it wants to be with aplomb, and gets out.  Not a second is wasted, there are no sudden left-turns into unnecessary darkness, and it proudly wears its heart on its sleeve.  It’s the kind of light, cynicism-free, genuine family film which, much like with Paddington, they just don’t make anymore.  The kind where the gag stock in trade is physical humour, where the central dynamic is all about family, where the scale is small and intimate, where stakes are personal, and where character is king above all else.

In other words, it’s the antithesis of modern day ‘family’ filmmaking and something that only Aardman could have made.  There’s care and love in every frame, every shot, every scene, every character, action, sound cue, as well as a stunning level of confidence.  Other filmmakers might have tried to expand the scale, introduce too many ancillary characters that we’re supposed to care about, plough every single character full of backstory and unique personality, and heighten the stakes outside of the main cast to create a finale that’s supposed to be weightier than if it were just the main cast, but Aardman have trust in their work.  Trust that their film is fine as is and doesn’t need unnecessary bells and whistles.

Shaun has a laser-tight focus on its main characters – Shaun, The Farmer, Farmer’s dog Bitzer, and deranged animal controller A. Trumper who relentlessly pursues the sheep through The Big City – and any stakes in the film directly relate to those characters and their wellbeing, nothing further.  There are secondary characters – most specifically the flock that follows Shaun to The Big City, and a scruffy female stray dog who Shaun bumps into – but the film never makes the mistake of handing over the film to them unnecessarily for extended durations.  They’re there to compliment the main cast, not overpower them.  Meanwhile, the backstories, personalities, and relationships of the main cast are simple and upfront, told through actions and an excellent pair of montages at the start of the film – they make the cast feel more rounded and genuine in five minutes than The House of Magic managed in 80.

On that note, the film’s writer-directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton have cut out everything that they have deemed to be unnecessary to telling the story of Shaun The Sheep: The Movie and that includes the dialogue.  Yes, not once in Shaun The Sheep is a line of intelligible dialogue spoken.  There are animal sounds, grunts, and gibberish, but no actual dialogue.  Now, obviously, this is how it is in the TV series the film is based off of, but a less confident company would have thrown dialogue in there regardless and had the cast speak intelligibly – I know that Tom & Jerry: The Movie was over 20 years ago, but wounds like that never heal – and Aardman resisted that urge.  They had that confidence.

And the film is SO MUCH BETTER FOR IT.  It gives the film a unique voice of its own, a creative restriction that ends up influencing everything else in the film.  For example, the lack of dialogue means that gags have to be more universal, more slapstick, more built into the animation without coming off as lazy and repetitive.  It’s a tough line to walk, but Shaun makes it look ridiculously easy.  Gags come at a rapid-fire pace and aimed at all age levels with very few being expressly for a certain part of the audience, whilst recurring gags – like Trumper somehow falling (in two senses of the word) for one of the sheep’s elaborate disguises, or one of the Animal Containment inmates being unnervingly creepy – are sparingly returned to and build up to genuine payoffs instead of simply filling up time.  Boarding and layout are also excellent, building many gags around sight and blocking in a way that feels like the design of every last frame has been agonised over.

Speaking of, animation is typically fantastic.  Laika have really nailed expanding the possible technical scope and smoothness of stop-motion, as well as its integration of CGI, but there’s just something about the way that Aardman do business that will win me over each time.  There’s a weight, I feel; a physical, tangible weight to their characters.  Laika’s feel softer, lighter, less like human hands have been in touch with proceedings – sort of true, with their usage of CG and 3D printers – whilst Aardman’s feel heavier, denser, where their every move takes considerable effort.  As always, it works.  There’s nothing as complex as in The Pirates! but there is a warmth and lived-in feel, helped by the fact that, despite this effectively being a silent movie, character animations rarely go for wild and exaggerated to get across feelings.

I haven’t yet touched on Ilan Eshkeri’s score, which is a crime because it’s bloody brilliant and one of the key ways in which the film works.  Since there’s no typical dialogue, the score backs and accentuates the action, making it even clearer as to exactly how characters are thinking, feeling, etc.  It does a fantastic job at that whilst still conveying its own unique, slightly country, but always bouncy personality – and you all know how much I love me a score with some personality – not to mention the little leitmotifs that announce the arrival of a character; Trumper, for example, is always introduced with a crunchy, noodle-y and always self-consciously silly hard rock riff.  It, like the rest of the film, is charming and unlike anything else on the market at the moment.

And that’s what makes Shaun The Sheep: The Movie so special despite it honestly not being much more than a sweet funny comedy aimed at families.  Actually, scratch the “despite” part of that last sentence.  That’s exactly why it is so special!  It’s low-key, character-focussed, intimate, and inclusive in a way that most family movies nowadays just aren’t.  Family moviemaking nowadays is very much in a rut.  The animated films – and I’m singling out the bad ones, here, tropes and such aren’t bad as long as they’re done well – are mostly loud and big and spectacle lacking in heart, whilst the live-action ones have mostly migrated to 12a serialised action fests, most of which shut out the youngest by being too dark and intense for them.

But Aardman remember.  Aardman remember that family entertainment should be enjoyable for all members and ages of the family.  They remember the alternative to loud heartless spectacle, they remember that a light, character-driven animated film isn’t somehow lesser, and they embrace that fact.  Shaun The Sheep: The Movie is nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it is unlike anything else currently in the cinema and the only people who won’t laugh, have fun, or be moved are either relentless killjoys or legally declared dead.  Do not miss this one!

Callum Petch is too hot, call the police and the fireman!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Flushed Away

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

This year, DreamWorks Animation celebrates its 20th anniversary.  To mark the occasion, Callum Petch is going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full-on retrospective treatment.  Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.


flushed away 213] Flushed Away (3rd November 2006)

Budget: $149 million

Gross: $178,120,010

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

I hated Flushed Away.

As a 12 year-old kid in 2006, I hated Flushed Away.  I was there opening weekend, with my dad and brother in tow, sold on the fact that it was Aardman and that Aardman had never done me wrong before.  I was hyped, I was ready, and I was left feeling dissatisfied and confused.  I did not like Flushed Away and I had no idea why.  The whole film felt off, it felt wrong, it didn’t feel like Aardman.  Let’s not forget, I was going off of DreamWorks films at the time and, though I was about to enter my stupid teenager phase where one rejects everything they loved as a child out of hand (because they are stupid teenagers), their joints with Aardman were the only confident signs I had of them putting out quality during this winding down period in our relationship.

And I didn’t like Flushed Away.  But it was Aardman!  Aardman aren’t supposed to make bad stuff, with the exception of Angry Kid!  That confusion and disappointment stuck with me.  It stuck with me for a real long time.  It festered and festered, until it manifested itself as full-blown hate.  There may have been good elements to Flushed Away, but the sheer level of disappointment that the film had visited upon me had completely crushed those elements.  Therefore, I was absolutely dreading this part of the retrospective, exactly as much as I was Shark Tale (OK, maybe not, but close).  Expectations were low, I had never really gotten over the film the first time, and this series is only 1 month removed from the commonly accepted nadir period of DreamWorks Animation.

So… I strongly dislike Flushed Away.  I don’t hate it anymore, the pain has finally subsided, I’ve come to terms with my grief, and I managed to have some fun with it because it’s not a bad film or anything, but I still very much dislike it.  The reason why is basically the same as the reason why I hated it when I was young and impressionable.  Flushed Away feels like DreamWorks trying to make an Aardman film, or Aardman trying to make a DreamWorks film, take your pick.  Considering how much the two companies allegedly butted heads with one another during production, which represented the final straw in relations between the pair, I’m not surprised that the film feels that way.  For example, this was supposed to be a pirate-based film, but DreamWorks nixed the idea believing back in 2001 that pirate movies didn’t sell (although Aardman would get to make their pirate movie after all, but we’ll get to that shortly).

Yet, at the time, not a single credited writer on the film is actually affiliated with DreamWorks.  Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, for example, were responsible for The Likely Lads franchise, many episodes of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and the entirety of Porridge.  Simon Nye, the film’s other credited writer, was responsible for Men Behaving Badly.  Yet the whole film feels so… American, like 27 DreamWorks execs were all crowding around each writer’s shoulder micro-managing every line for maximum commercial appeal.  As such, there’s this awkward compromise between the cheap, easy, toilet and pop-culture obsessed humour of DreamWorks films and the witty, clever, pun-focussed, heart-felt and quintessentially British humour of Aardman productions, where the latter is done as cynically as one can manage and where the former vastly overshadows the latter to such a lowbrow degree.

The film making said incredibly American view of England, by having the villain be heavily obsessed with tacky British predominately royal memorabilia, really doesn’t help proceedings.  It instead marks them out with a giant arrow of “Look!  British things!  Y’know?  Fish and chips, World Cup, broad working-class accents, ‘ello ‘ello, Benny Hill and all that!”  It feels insulting, references that broad, that obvious, the equivalent of a Yank thinking that all of England is exactly like the London they read about in a particularly useless encyclopaedia from the mid-1970s.  Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run were similarly classically British, but they felt more genuine because the films weren’t stopping every five seconds to show off their British credentials.

Case in point, the moment where Roddy realises that Sid will ruin his solitary bachelor lifestyle if he hangs around is backed by, of all sodding things, “Yakety Sax”.  Why?  Who knows; the incredibly short daydream sequence doesn’t seem to reference any part of any Benny Hill sketch, the show that basically appropriated that track for its own ends.  It’s just there because a funny music cue was required, for some reason, and since this is supposed to be a British film we should pick the most British song available!  To be honest, I’m pretty sure the only reason why there isn’t a bonding sequence between Roddy and Rita set to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” is because rights to songs by The Beatles are really bloody expensive.  It’s all so cringeworthy.

Speaking of, music cues in Flushed Away are primarily of the licensed variety, another creative choice that reeks of studio interference from upon high (note how nearly every important scene in both Shrek movies covered so far has been backed by licensed music).  Roddy’s trip down the loo to the sewer is backed by “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” by JET because the song sounds cool to soundtrack scenes to, although anybody who actually knows the song and tries to get caught up in it will be driven mad by the awkward editing to keep it at some instrumental part.  There’s a chase set to “Bohemian Like You”, again seemingly because it’s a cool song to soundtrack scenes to.  They are, I’m not disputing that, but the score is perfectly serviceable in and of itself and, again, their inclusion doesn’t have any reason beyond being cool songs to back things with (there’s none of the irony or joke-enhancing choices present in Pirates!’ usage of punk, ska and Flight Of The Conchords).

Well, unless they’re sung by the film’s most obvious comic relief, The Slugs.  See, unlike with Wallace & Gromit, which kept the appearance and usage of the bunnies to a minimum lest they run the risk of becoming this, Flushed Away keeps forcing in a group of slugs purely for the kids to laugh at.  They always just happen to be hanging around somewhere for a quick gag involving their high-pitch screams or Alvin & The Chipmunks singing of pop songs.  Also unlike the bunnies, they feel really shoehorned in, like one of said 27 execs noticed that the script didn’t have enough pop culture references or kid-exclusive gags and that must be rectified ASAP!  They only do the pop song thing twice, the other two times they do original compositions (which are eeeeehhh… “Ice Cold Rita” has Hugh Jackman singing going for it, but that’s about it), but they both feel incredibly unnecessary and a scene in which a group of slugs sing “Mr. Lonely” is going to feel like it’s going out of my way to annoy me, regardless of whether it runs for 30 seconds or 10 minutes.

When I keep mentioning “broad” in service of describing the humour, I mean that it’s lowest common denominator stuff.  Extended fart and burp jokes – which Wallace & Gromit also indulged in once or twice, admittedly – toilet humour in the literal and figurative sense, pop culture references where a thing is presented to you and you are expected to laugh due to recognising it – like a moment where the character voiced by Hugh Jackman tries to decide between wearing an Elvis Presley suit or a Wolverine suit – even extending to frequent, frequent cameos and references to past Aardman productions, to the point where it starts to feel less like little Easter eggs for more attentive and knowledgeable viewers and more like blatantly calling out their much better works to excuse what we’re watching.  “Look!  We made Wallace & Gromit!  DreamWorks made all these films!  We’re not normally this sub-par, honest!”

The puns, meanwhile, the bread and butter of many an Aardman production, feel really cynically calculated rather than genuine.  A groaner of a bad pun can still elicit laughs if the person who is writing or delivering the pun is completely sincere in their telling of it; this is why Curse Of The Were-Rabbit is a near-non-stop gag-fest.  Flushed Away’s puns, by contrast, feel… forced.  Again, the majority of the film feels like DreamWorks trying to make an Aardman film but not getting why Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit worked.  So you get threatening mob bosses telling their goons to put people “on ice” and then we find out that he means literally freezing them in an ice machine, followed by the even worse “prepare to meet your maker, your ice maker!”  But they just end up landing with loud notable thuds instead of laughter-in-spite-of-oneself.

At least they’re not lazy, though.  A surprising number of the gags here are extremely easy and very lazily delivered.  Le Frog and his ninja frog henchmen are all walking French stereotypes and whilst you can make those jokes funny, as Muppets Most Wanted proved this year and which this film manages to do once, here they just feel like yet another “Oh, look!  We’re British!  We get British customs!  Look at how British we are!”  Roddy’s fall from Toad’s lair involves not one unfortunate crotch shot, not two unfortunate crotch shots, but four unfortunate crotch shots, one straight after the other for about 20 seconds of film time; a gag the film does again later on but with slightly different parameters.  There’s a brief bit of random uncomfortable racism where Roddy accidentally dials a Chinese takeout and his attempts at communicating his situation are, thanks to the operator’s accent, hi-lariously misinterpreted as ordering Chinese food.  It’s all just so cheap.

And yet this film cost $149 million to make!  Not that all of that made it into the finished film, you understand.  The constant re-writes and do-overs ended up inflating the budget to nearly twice the combined budgets of Chicken Run and Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.  There was an initial trailer that predominately showed Roddy having hamster man-servants named Gilbert and Sullivan, only for them to be dropped totally in the final film.  Of course, this isn’t a problem in and of itself, I almost guarantee you that every animated film undergoes some giant fundamental change at some point during its production, but the film does such a poor job at hiding that.  The central story dynamic remains about the same throughout, think a gender-swapped version of “Common People” by Pulp played straight, but everything else is a giant mess.

For example, Toad honestly feels kinda pointless to overall proceedings or, at least, as the big overall villain.  As somebody who needs to pair Rita and Roddy together and drive the opening segment of the film, he makes sense.  As somebody who becomes a big overall villain who wishes to wipe out the entirety of the sewer so that we can have our big action finale?  No, he doesn’t, especially since said finale feels entirely rudimentary instead of earned and its existence requires the heroes to be unbelievably wilfully stupid.  The main emotional centre of the film, the burgeoning respect and all-but-explicitly-stated romance of Roddy and Rita, also feels false.  I never really bought it, that derogatory “Common People” comparison sticking with me a lot, and I never really found Roddy or Rita to be particularly interesting or consistent characters – Roddy flits back and forth schizophrenically between out-of-his-depth and try-too-hard-suave, whilst Rita spends all of her time talking tough but needing immediate rescue and help whenever action kicks off like a female Scrappy Doo.

As for the animation, which one would think I was OK with seeing as I’ve spent forever tearing into the script and neglecting it, it hasn’t aged well.  I appreciate the attempt to recreate the Aardman claymation style in CGI, to try and keep the house style, but a hell of a lot of the enterprise, Up-Top especially, now looks like an even lower-quality version of the graphics used to power Telltale Games’ Wallace & Gromit series.  Character models clearly try and recall the handmade plasticine models that became the Aardman calling card, but the bodies move too fluidly for the purposefully cut-and-replace mouth movements to gel with.  Rita, Roddy and Sid also look way too human.  In fact, let’s not beat around the bush, all of the cast look way too human, to such an extent that the good rats may as well just be human.  This technique would work if it were primarily limited to Roddy – him being an upper class pet, it would make sense for him to have humanlike movements – but everybody does it, to such an extent that they may as well just be human.

I get why Aardman chose to go CG.  The story takes place in a sewer, that requires a lot of water, you do not expose clay figurines to water, that is a stupid idea.  But considering the film we have, one that feels less like Aardman and more like a very sub-standard DreamWorks film, I can’t help but feel like it was yet another demand from upon high by the overlords at DreamWorks.  A desire to standardise even further, homogenise a unique voice in search of the more lucrative general audiences, and seeing as the script has received the sufficient amount of corporate retooling why not extend it to the whole style of animation too?  I know that that didn’t happen, but it still makes a tonne of sense considering the film Flushed Away ended up as.

To its credit, Flushed Away is still Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, comfortably at that.  Many reviewers threw around lines like “Best Animated Film Of The Year”, although 2006 wasn’t really a good year for animated film in Empire’s defence.  Many reviews were still relatively soft in the praise department, though; one even noting that “the Aardman magic is missing.”  And then there were the negative reviews, more than Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit combined; many lamenting the loud broad nature of the film, the generic nature of the film itself, the extreme anthropomorphism of its cast, and the fact that it was set in a sewer because The Guardian can be really unprofessional with its reviews a lot of the time (a little something to remember next time you want to take me to task for my review of Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie).  For the first time, Aardman looked human to a lot of critics.

Financially… well, the film was doomed to failure as soon as its budget swelled to $100 million, the highest grossing Aardman film is still Chicken Run ($224 million) and a film isn’t considered a success until it has doubled its budget.  Nevertheless, Flushed Away marched ahead to a noble failure anyway.  The film debuted in third in America, behind a limited release Borat and a wide-release The Santa Clause 3 (side note: Santa Clause 3 happened, folks).  Paramount execs (DreamWorks’ new distribution partners, let’s not forget) tried to spin that as a surpassing of the expectations and therefore a good thing, but the arrival of Happy Feet in Week 3 and Flushed Away’s resultant descent into oblivion more than likely put pay to that.  Overseas, the film performed strongly, particularly in France and Aardman’s native Britain, enough to get the film technically in the black, but the film still caused DreamWorks to ultimately take a $109 million write-down due to its near-total failure domestically.

So, the film was a failure, it didn’t knock every critic for six, and it took a giant bath at the box office.  Combine these factors with the termination of their contract with DreamWorks, and the very public television failures of Creature Comforts USA and Chop Socky Chooks, and one could be forgiven for thinking at the time that Flushed Away was like some kind of Grim Reaper herald for Aardman.  That’s a pretty big tailspin to pull out of, after all.  Fortunately, as evidenced by the fact that we have a Shaun The Sheep movie due from them in a few months’ time, things managed to turn around for the company after making that breakaway.

For starters, in 2007, they found a new partner for feature-filmmaking, in the shape of Sony Pictures Animation (who, if Hotel Transylvania 2 and Genndy Tartakovsky’s Popeye end up as successful as I think they will be, are about to become a major known player in this field).  They even renewed their contract with them in 2010 – although they seem to be on their own again for Shaun The Sheep after production on Pirates! ended up more than a little troubled.  In 2011, they returned to the all-CG way of doing things with Arthur Christmas and, this time, managed to earn critical acclaim and a relatively decent profit.  Then, in 2012, Aardman finally got to make their pirate movie, in the shape of The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!  That too received critical acclaim, although an apparently bowlderised US edit and a release date quite literally the week before The Avengers meant that its box office gross was underwhelming.

So though they may struggle to reap giant financial rewards, Aardman have clearly gotten their mojo back since their “amicable” split from DreamWorks.  More importantly, you watch either Arthur Christmas or The Pirates! and one can clearly get the sense that Aardman are getting to make the films that they want to make again.  Those films are quintessentially British in a way that doesn’t involve them having to loudly announce and restate that fact every five minutes in the broadest and most obvious way possible, like we’ll run it out of town if it doesn’t have sufficient British credentials.  Those films have a heart and soul that makes their puns and ridiculously silly humour charming and endearing instead of boring and annoying.  Those films are clearly made for the filmmaker’s artistic benefit instead of aiming for the widest possible audience.

In other words, they’re everything that Flushed Away is not.  Again, I don’t hate Flushed Away, I found enough funny sequences (especially the “he’s gonna steal your boat” exchange and the frog mime) to feel like I wasn’t wasting my time, but it is an awkward attempt to marry two distinct styles and identities that don’t gel well with one another.  It doesn’t feel like an Aardman film, and it’s not a very good DreamWorks film, so the result is just the worst of both worlds, coupled with the disappointment of it being a sub-par Aardman film.


Investors in DreamWorks Animation were likely spending a lot of 2006 scratching their heads.  Not only had the company’s two films for the year underperformed, they had managed to drive away the part of their company that was capable of bringing in critical acclaim.  Many investors, more than likely, were getting nervous.  Had DreamWorks already lost it?  Was their investment for nothing?  Then Shrek The Third happened and, like all sequels to still-lucrative properties, set everyone who was focussed on the bottom-line’s minds at ease.  Next week, in our final instalment before a week’s hiatus, we take a look at the moment where I all but cut the cord with the company.

A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!

Callum Petch has got a great car, yeah what’s wrong with it today?  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!