Originally making his first appearance in Aardman Animation's Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave (1995), the inquisitive and clever Shaun the Sheep has become one of the company's most popular supporting characters. Unfortunately, Shaun didn't make an appearance in the duo's first feature-length adventure---but Aardman hadn't forgotten fans of the woolly hero. Later that year, a television series featuring Shaun hit the British airwaves, with Region 1 eventually catching up a short time after. Produced in the company's trademark style of expert stop-motion animation, the aptly-named Shaun the Sheep reminds first-time viewers of classic Wile E. Coyote and Tom and Jerry cartoons: it's wordless in a technical sense, utilizing clever sight gags and music to tell each six-minute story.
Away from the bustling atmosphere and invention-fueled excitement of Wallace and Gromit, Shaun's world is an ordinary farm with green pastures and wooden fences. Along with a flock of considerably less clever and athletically-inclined sheep, a strict but lazy guard dog, a bumbling farmer and a trio of mischievous pigs, Shaun manages to make the most of each day. Whether leading the flock in morning exercises, organizing a game of soccer, wrestling with the pigs or simply munching on grass (when the farmer's looking, of course), our hero's bravery is sometimes outmatched by his own recklessness---but more often than not, Shaun saves the day. Although this series is clearly aimed at younger audiences, it's perfectly acceptable fare for those who enjoyed Wallace and Gromit, Creature Comforts...or, let's face it, pretty much the entire Aardman back catalogue.
As mentioned earlier, each wordless six-minute short is packed with laughs---and with such a strict timeframe, these adventures don't overstay their welcome. Unfortunately, Shaun the Sheep's road to Region 1 DVD has not been without a few bumps: all of the individual volumes from Season 1 (as well as the entire Season 1 Collection) were cropped for 4x3 televisions...and, as a result, I haven't been able to recommend a single one. Until now, of course. Springtime Shena-a-anigans is the first Region 1 collection of Season 2 episodes (with more to come), and these episodes have finally been presented in their correct 16x9 aspect ratio. Before we worry about the technical details, though, let's take a look at the episodes:
Springtime Shena-a-anigans collects 7 Shaun shorts in one small package, and kids of all ages should enjoy each and every episode. "Spring Lamb" finds young Timmy in a bit of trouble after falling into a garbage heap. "Supersize Timmy" involves a King Kong-like adventure after the young lamb eats Miracle Gro. "Bagpipe Buddy" follows the flock as they figure out how to care for a discarded "instrument". "Cheetah Cheater" follows the farmer's feline (new for Season 2) as he dreams of being a big cat. "Lock Out" takes place on a dark and story night when the farmer forgets his house key. "Draw the Line" has some fun with a wayward street worker and his line-painting machine. Last but not least, "Ewe've Been Framed" follows the bumbling farmer as he struggles to live without his Coke-bottle glasses. Speaking of the farmer (and Bitzer, his faithful dog), they've been given a visual tweaking for Season 2. I don't necessarily mind their new appearances, but I certainly don't think they needed any "fixing".
In any case, these 7 shorts go down easy at just 6 minutes apiece, so fans shouldn't have much trouble speeding through this release in record time. As for the DVD itself, the video quality is certainly an improvement...but this is still far from a perfect effort, especially since there's less than an hour of total content here. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Finally presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, this batch of Shaun the Sheep episodes looks much better than Lionsgate's Season 1 releases. Still, there's some room for improvement here: the material was taken from a PAL source and has still not been transferred properly, resulting in mild compression artifacts and notable interlacing issues. Its' a shame these can't look even better...but for now, even a modest visual improvement is a big step in the right direction.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix is on par with past releases, featuring good channel separation and clear "dialogue". Inquisitive bleats fill the soundstage on many occasions. The playful music also comes through loud and clear, rarely fighting for attention and typically anchored up front. Closed Captions are included for these 7 shorts, but not during the bonus features.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, these plain-wrap menus include episode selection and a handy "Play All" option. Each six-minute episode has been presented without chapter stops, while no layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in an eco-friendly black keepcase, while a promotional insert is also tucked inside.
Not much here, unfortunately, and some of it is recycled material. Both the Sheep Shearing Game and Timmy's Tune (a 0:48 music video) have been ported over from the Season 1 collection, but they aren't all that valuable anyway. Also here is a Bonus Episode of Timmy Time! entitled "Timmy's Plane" (10:02), and this cute adventure is aimed at an even younger audience than Shaun. For the Aardman newbies, Timmy Time! is a 2009 series coming to Region 1 DVD soon, and it's also the reason why several of these Shaun episodes feature the little rugrat. He's OK in my book, but really? A spin-off of a spin-off?
Springtime Shena-a-anigans continues Shaun the Sheep's winning streak with another batch of charming adventures...and if that weren't enough, we finally get these shorts in the correct aspect ratio. As for the rest of this pint-sized collection, Lionsgate continues to skimp on the episode count and the bonus features aren't all that exciting, either. I'd imagine that we'll get a complete (and more affordable) Season 2 collection in the next year or so...but if you don't want to wait that long, Springtime Shena-a-anigans is the first and only Region 1 Shaun release that I can actually stand behind. Recommended.
Other Links of Interest: Shaun's Official Website | More Aardman DVD Reviews
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.