It’s strange to think that Shaun the Sheep started out life as a bit-player in a Wallace and Gromit short film – because in many ways the homely stop-motion lamb has far outstripped Aardman’s original big-hitters.
Over the past 8 years Shaun’s eponymous CBBC series has broadcast over 140 episodes and gained its own spin-off (Timmy Time, for younger viewers) and this year even hit the big screen in the Shaun the Sheep movie. All in a fraction of the time Wallace and Gromit managed similar cultural penetration. Clearly, where there’s a wool there’s a way.
Anyway, Shaun is now back on TV for this decidedly un-festive Boxing Day special (you can glimpse some Christmas decorations in an attic at one point but that’s it), with the action kicking off when Shaun tricks his bumbling farmer into buying three mischievous llamas from a livestock auction.
Clearly some sheep just want to watch the world burn, because the llamas in question (two of whom you can see adorning the Radio Times Christmas issue cover at the moment) immediately begin to cause havoc on the farm, much to Shaun’s delight. However, as their exploits get more and more out of cloven hoof it’s up to Shaun to save the day – unless he’s annoyed all his friends too much to get their help.
This dialogue-free story is realised through a series of well-realised slapstick set pieces, with great physical comedy throughout and some surprisingly pulse-pounding scenes. One sequence where Shaun is chased onto a roof is even a bit scary, with the llamas appealingly devilish villains.
And as ever the homespun animation by Aardman is top-notch here, in some places seamless and some places whimsically handmade (as when fibrous wool is teased out with a brush, or the sheep take a dip in gorgeously viscous water). The balance between the professionalism and low-fi charm is wonderfully handled, and oh-so British.
OK, it’s not that festive and it’s hard to believe that Shaun would really team up with these Peruvian hoodies when he’s supposed to be a smart guy – but The Farmer’s Llamas is a lot of fun and kids will love it. Why not take a (sheep) dip?
Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas is on BBC1 today (Boxing Day) at 6.10pm