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Shaun the Sheep: A Woolly Good Time DVD Review

Buy Shaun the Sheep: A Woolly Good Time on DVD from Amazon.com Shaun the Sheep: A Woolly Good Time
Show & DVD Details

Creators: Nick Park (original idea); series devised by Richard Goleszowski, Alison Snowden, David Fine / Writers: Charles Hodges, Sara Barbas, Ian Carney, Elly Brewer, Richard Goleszowski, Rob Dudley, Lee Pressman / Directors: Jay Grace, Mike Mort, Dave Osmand, Christopher Sadler, Andy Symanowski, JP Vine, Darren Walsh, Rich Webber, Lee Wilton

Voice Cast: John Sparkes, Justin Fletcher, Kate Harbour, Rich Webber, Jo Allen

Running Time: 39 Minutes (6 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen, Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned
DVD Release Date: February 16, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
Episodes Originally Aired March 14 - September 13, 2007
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5); Black Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover

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Aardman Animations of England are best known as the creators of Wallace and Gromit. Through the magic of stop motion, clay renderings of the bald British man and his expressive dog have come to life several times over the years beginning with the 1989 short A Grand Day Out.
After racking up two Academy Awards for Best Animated Short, the duo got the feature-length treatment in 2005's Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The film beat out works by Hayao Miyazaki and Tim Burton to win the fifth Oscar for Best Animated Feature. (The studio's first feature, 2000's Chicken Run, probably would have taken home the first statue had the category been launched a year earlier than it was.)

Things were looking up for Aardman, but the company hasn't topped that achievement in the years since. In 2006, Flushed Away, Aardman's third feature overall and first in computer animation, got good critical marks but flopped in US theaters (though still outgrossing Were-Rabbit) and led Aardman and partner DreamWorks Animation to part ways. Just a few months later, Aardman signed a 3-year deal with Sony Pictures and announced a trio of feature films to look out for.

Here we are, three years later, and none of those has shown any sign of materializing. In Aardman's cinematic absence, others have kept the art of stop-motion alive; among this year's Animated Feature Oscar nominees are two films -- Henry Selick's Coraline and Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox -- made in the painstaking frame-by-frame format. (Two additional international films on the Academy's short list of eligible contenders were also stop-motion works.)

He's Shaun the Sheep. He's Shaun the Sheep. See his show here, puts me to sleep. Shaun and Bitzer join forces against the farmer's new robotic dog in "Helping Hound."

Meanwhile, Aardman has kept creating shorts, primarily for television. Wallace and Gromit are once again Oscar nominees for their latest effort, A Matter of Loaf and Death. In terms of regular TV series, the studio's most popular on either side of the Atlantic Ocean is "Shaun the Sheep".

Conceived by Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park, "Shaun" employs the clay animation stylings that have earned Park and Aardman renown. The short stories each run just six minutes long (with title theme and credits, two fill a 15-minute BBC timeslot; here in the US, just one story airs a morning on Disney Channel).
They feature no dialogue. The series' title renders Shaun, a sheep who first appeared in Wallace and Gromit's A Close Shave (1995), its hero, but beyond being smaller and less fluffy than most of his flock, he doesn't really stand out with a distinctive personality. At least that's the case in A Woolly Good Time, a 6-short compilation available next Tuesday from HiT Entertainment and distribution partner Lionsgate.

Although this is the fifth Shaun DVD that HiT and Lionsgate have issued, it posed my introduction to the series. As a fan of all the Wallace and Gromit stuff and Aardman's two other films, I expected to enjoy "Shaun". But I was unable to get much enjoyment out of it. The show truly suffers from the lack of a Wallace; the cast is essentially comprised of Gromits, whose only verbal communication comes in grunts, bleats, and baas. Such visual storytelling is nothing new. One can trace it back to silent comedy and some of the oldest surviving cartoons. Pixar puts the format to outstanding use on most of their short films and successfully played with it at length on WALL•E.

Somehow, though, "Shaun" required patience I couldn't give it. I don't know if I've officially acquired ADHD or what, because six minutes is an awful short time to lose interest in anything. Part of the problem may be that what works in short form isn't always going to translate perfectly to 40 minutes of consecutive viewing, which this DVD seems explicitly designed to provide. But on each of the six featured shorts, I found my mind wandering, unmoved by the pastoral comedy. I could detect some wit, but nothing that I could really appreciate or care for.

The issue may simply be that "Shaun" skews younger and narrower than Aardman's features and Wallace/Gromit fare. I'm well aware that many people love the show and the fact that they profess that love on the Internet confirms they're not in the target demographic of children aged 4 to 7. I suspect the show is unappreciated by as many; they simply don't have reactions strong enough to vocalize it electronically.

The six episodes on A Woolly Good Time (whose subtitle carries no specific meaning as far as I can tell) all emanate from the first 40-short series of "Shaun." A second series began airing last November in the UK, where the first 40 are collectively available on Region 2 DVD, care of BBC video label 2 Entertain. Here in North America, HiT and Lionsgate are still taking the random compilation route. Woolly brings the total number of first season shorts available in the US to thirty-four (total suggested retail price: $74.90).

Here's a look at this disc's episodes...

The Farmer would rather not take a look at sheepdog Bitzer's disgusting tooth. The farmer's reckless niece amuses herself by throwing a ball at a sheep's face.

Washday (Originally aired September 4, 2007)
After mucking about with clothes the farmer has hung to dry, Shaun and company try to get them rewashed.

Tooth Fairy (Originally aired September 5, 2007)
The farmer's sheepdog Bitzer tries everything he can to rid himself of a painful loose tooth

The Farmer's Niece (Originally aired September 10, 2007)
The farmer's terror of a niece entertains herself at Bitzer and the sheep's expense.

Snore-Worn Shaun (Originally aired September 13, 2007)
Shaun tries every way he can think of to silence loudly-snoring fellow sheep Shirley.

Helping Hound (Originally aired September 11, 2007)
The farmer receives a high-tech robotic dog, who soon turns against Bitzer and the sheep.

Big Top Timmy (Originally aired March 14, 2007)
Restless little sheep Timmy sneaks off to an abandoned circus, where he needs rescuing from a tightrope.

Shaun has had it with Shirley and her loud insufferable snoring in "Snore-Worn Shaun." Shaun can't seem to get the timing right to rescue little Timmy from high upon the trapeze and tightrope.


A Woolly Good Time presents "Shaun the Sheep" in 1.33:1 fullscreen. That would be fine if the show was created in that aspect ratio, but like most British television series, this one is actually produced in 16:9. This isn't anything new for the series;
all of its previous Region 1 DVDs have been cropped to fill 4:3 sets, while Region 2 and 4 discs have preserved the widescreen aspect ratio of native broadcasts.

HiT and Lionsgate may be the only studios out there thinking that kids can't handle widescreen (never mind that if they don't already have a widescreen TV, they probably soon will); last fall's Loaf and Death DVD also offered only a cropped presentation. Both widescreen and fullscreen versions could have been included even while keeping us at a single single-sided, single-layered disc. It's certainly unfortunate that we're stuck getting a compromised presentation, no matter how minor.

Besides the framing's annoyance in principle (the show naturally looks pretty fine in 1.33:1), the picture quality is not with any major concerns. It's a tiny bit less sharp and more grainy than one would like, but it's clean and colorful all the same. The plain Dolby stereo track is also adequate, its volume levels much higher than those of the bonus features. Not that they're particularly needed on a basically silent show like this, but no subtitles are offered.

The show's only spoken words get subtitled for the shrunk-down Sing-Along. The Mini Making of Shaun'" gives us a fast overview of the very slow stop-motion animation process. It's a good thing all six 6-minute episodes were able to fit on one disc and one Episode Selection menu.


There are just two small bonus features here. "Sing-Along with Shaun" (1:15) runs through the Vic Reeves-performed theme song twice, with clips appearing in a tiny window and joined by large animated lyrics.

"The Mini Making of Shaun" (3:28) is a kid-oriented short explaining how the show is created from storyboards to animatics to bendable models and sets
to the animation process. It's a brisk and simple yet satisfactory answer to children who ask, "How do they do it?"

The menu's "Trailers" listing plays the same three ads that run automatically at disc insertion. They promote Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails - The Movie, Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death, and "Shaun the Sheep": Off the Baa!.

The DVD is fitted with "Auto Play", the HiT/Lionsgate version of Disney's "FastPlay", playback that brings DVD a little closer to VHS by not requiring button-pressing. It subjects you to the disc-loading ads both before and after the feature.

The three 4:3 menus play instrumental variations of the theme tune while a silhouette of Shaun's head is cursor. Inactivity prompts playback on the main menu. The ecological intentions of the DVD's black keepcase's internal cut-outs are undermined by the inclusion of an entirely redundant plain cardboard slipcover. There are no inserts.

Shaun the Sheep proudly presents the proverbial needle in a haystack he just found. Most "Shaun the Sheep" episodes end with a brief musical moment like this dancing sheep-in-jeep shot.


I anticipated liking "Shaun the Sheep" and I feel that I should like it, as a fan of Aardman animation and the stop-motion medium. But the show just didn't do much for me, its silent comedy and bathroom humor lacking the smart, broad appeal of Wallace & Gromit. Still, you could find worse children's programming than this and it's refreshing to encounter a current kid's show that isn't formulaic and didactic.

If you do care for the show, you're quite likely to be disappointed with the presentation here. Ignoring the model taken in its homeland, HiT/Lionsgate continue to release random episode compilations with no all-inclusive collection alternative. No matter how low the price may be, A Woolly Good Time isn't up to snuff, its welterweight supply of six 6-minute shorts being cropped from widescreen broadcasts as well. Others with more relaxed standards will pour praise on the show and this release, but I see no basis on which I can recommend this disc.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed February 12, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2007 Aardman Animations, HIT Entertainment, and Lionsgate. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.