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Shaun the Sheep: Little Sheep of Horrors
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. The first two Region 1 Shaun the Sheep collections, Off the Baa! and Back in the Ba-a-ath, contained 8 shorts apiece---but the most recent two (Sheep on the Loose and the subject of today's review, Little Sheep of Horrors) only include 6 episodes apiece while keeping the $15 price tag. It's a bit expensive for roughly 36 minutes of content (minus the bonus features, of course), but the consistent quality of these family-friendly episodes helps to soften the blow.
As for these episodes, each and every one is a highlight. "Little Sheep of Horrors" and "Things That Go Bump" are the only two Halloween-themed adventures; one includes a rather interesting horror movie, while the other features the naughty pigs playing nighttime tricks on our sleepy flock. "Abracadabra" is a lighter episode, showing what happens after the farmer tosses out an old magic set. The like-minded "Heavy Metal Shaun" has our hero searching for treasure with a metal detector, while "Troublesome Tractor" and "Sheepwalking" change things up a bit: the former shows the flock using their ninja tactics for good; the latter puts Shaun in danger, so his woolly friends have to save the day. As expected, each of these charming shorts features plenty of great sight gags, clever plots and excellent stop-motion animation.
Unfortunately, the quality of this DVD release doesn't match the episodes themselves. Like the previous Region 1 collections, these episodes are cropped to 1.33:1 and bonus features are kept to a minimum. After viewing the superior Region 2 collection, it's also apparent that the opening and closing credits have been modified---or in some cases, left out altogether. All told, this one-disc volume is a somewhat disappointing release, made even more frustrating by the strength of the content. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in cropped 1.33:1 aspect ratios, the pan-and-scan presentation isn't the only problem on display here. Region 2 Shaun the Sheep DVDs maintain the series' original 1.78:1 aspect ratio---but since this Region 1 release is aimed at the younger crowd, I guess Lionsgate didn't bother with quality control. The color palette doesn't exactly pop off the screen, while notable amounts of edge enhancement and interlacing can also be spotted along the way. The other Region 1 collections suffered the same fate, so it's doubtful that Lionsgate will be correcting these problems any time soon.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix fares better, featuring good channel separation and clear "dialogue" (for lack of a better word). 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 six shorts, but not during the bonus features.
There's no doubt that Shaun the Sheep continues Aardman's tradition of flawless stop-motion animation, cracking comedy and clever sight gags. Even with less than 40 minutes of content to its name, it's almost forgivable when the content is this entertaining from start to finish. As with the other Region 1 Shaun releases, unfortunately, Lionsgate hasn't put forth much effort: cursed with a pan-and-scan visual presentation and a lack of substantial bonus features, even the low price tag makes Little Sheep of Horrors nearly impossible to recommend. Die-hard disciples of Shaun may simply want to import the widescreen Region 2 collection, while new fans should give this a weekend spin at the very most. Rent It...but if you're serious about importing the Region 2 collection, click here for more info. At less than $40 shipped for more than five volumes' worth of content, it's a better deal anyway.
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.