It may seem like a silly statement, but it's one of those things that is all too often forgotten – perhaps the most important thing in creating a television show or film is the ability to tell a good story. Many times storytelling takes a backseat to production styles, editing techniques, or performances. All of those things are, unquestionably, important, but when it comes right down to it, if a creative team can't tell the story there is going to be something fundamentally lacking in whatever gets produced. And, looked at from the opposite side, if one has the ability to tell a great story to tell it, it can be forgiven if some of the other elements are not as sharp as, perhaps they should be. In the end, it is the performances, the editing, the production style, and all the other ancillary things that ought to be put into service to tell the story, not vice versa. Importantly, very importantly, the story itself need not be the greatest, deepest, most profound story ever, it just needs to be well told.
The upcoming DVD release Shaun the Sheep: Back in the Ba-a-ath, produced by Nick Park and Aardman Animation (the folks behind Wallace & Gromit) features storytelling at its finest. The series, which has appeared on the Disney Channel, features brief episodes, each approximately (on average) six to seven minutes in length. Featured in the series is Shaun, his sheep friends, Bitzer the sheepdog, The Farmer, and The Naughty Pigs.
Filmed using the same sort of stop-motion techniques Aardman has used to great success in Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit, and other Aardman work. And, just as in those other Aardman works, there is a sense of wit and cleverness in each of the eight episodes of Shaun the Sheep included on this DVD.
Shaun, for those who don't know, first appeared in the Wallace & Gromit short “A Close Shave.” He subsequently appeared in Cracking Contraptions before finally being given a chance to shine by himself, and shine he does. Though ” just” a sheep, Shaun, as with all of Aardman's animals, is highly anthropomorphized. Shaun and the rest of the Flock spend the vast majority of their time trying to outwit The Farmer, Bitzer, and anyone else who might get in their way.
In “Take Away,” a typical episode of the series, the Flock finds itself distressed that The Farmer dared to get pizza and did not share any with them. Consequently, a few of the sheep dress up as a human and venture into town to get some for themselves. Along the way the scare and mystify people before somehow managing to convince the pizza guy to give them their pies despite their lack of cash.
Perhaps it is because stop-motion animation is an incredibly difficult process and consequently even the tiniest elements of the production have to be worked out in advance, but Shaun the Sheep has the sense of being perfectly put together. Even the smallest of jokes are well-thought out and executed.
In the end, Shaun the Sheep is an incredibly amount of fun for both young and old. Some of the jokes are too subtle for younger viewers, though all will enjoy watching the truly odd antics of the Flock, things like a Rocky-esque montage in the episode “Shape up with Shaun” in which Shirley the Sheep attempts to lose weight.
Shaun the Sheep doesn't attempt to tell large stories, they all range from the aforementioned ones to things like problems during bath time, but the stories are all well-executed, and, more impressively, they all use a minimal amount — if any — dialogue. However, anyone watching will easily be able to discern what is taking place.
The DVD is short on extras, it contains a sing-a-long version of the theme as bonus material and that's it. Worse than that, rather than placing the words on top of the video, the video is made tiny and the words are placed underneath it. And, oddly, if one hits “play all” from the menu, the sing-a-long and some trailers for other shows play after each of the episodes of the show finish.
Even so, Shaun the Sheep is great where it really counts, in keeping the audience truly entranced at the characters on screen and their antics.