A particular fondnessfor animals had led the british stop-motion animation studio Aardman to a very special endeavour in the mid-2000s - the creation of a spin-off from a character originally appearing in the third adventure of their major stars Wallace & Gromit. Shaun, the sheep was promoted to his own series of short-films for the BBC's own children channel CBBC in cooperation with other european television stations. The first forty episodes were broadcast in 2007 all over the world and became such a huge success that there was soon a lot of demand for more of Shaun's adventures with his flock.
After the successful broadcast of the first season at the end of 2007, Aardman was still between major productions after the studio had broken up with its partner Dreamworks because of creative differences, but there was already a new multiple-movie contract with Sony in the works and soon the production of The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists and the CGI animated Arthur Christmas began. Nick Park also worked on A Matter of Loaf and Death, a new Wallace & Gromit short for the 2008 BBC Christmas program, so Aardman's plate was pretty full for the moment - but by early 2009, Shaun the Sheep was pulled out of mothballs and went into production again.
Richard Goleszowski, who had spearheaded the production of the first series, had now taken a step back and handed the series to Christopher Sadler, who had already been closely involved in the creation of Shaun the Sheep from the beginning and had directed about half of the earlier episodes. The production team was expanded so that Christopher Sadler, who only helmed one episode himself, was able to supervise the actual directors Seamus Malone, Richard Webber and Lee Wilton. Almost all of the animators and film crew returned to work on the new series, including the model makers, set designers and cinematographer Charles Copping, who now had the challenge to work in high-definition with the series being shot with digital still cameras instead of video equipment as before.
As a consequence, the sets and models had to be almost rebuilt from scratch to meet the requirements of the high definition production. The original look of the sets was heavily improved with much more attention to detail and colour, so that the Farm and its surroundings looked more lively and realistic. There were also a few one-time sets added and the whole scenerey was opened up and shot in much wider angles as before, giving the impression not of a small toy farm, but an almost life-size set. The "look and feel" leaves the positive impression that the designers and animators were only finding their way during the first series, but have now firmly hit their stride in the instantly recognizable style of Aardman.
More noticeable changes concerned the models of the characters. The sheep were largely the same save for their wool, which got a more fluffy and soft look, but the original concept of limited facial expression only through the eyes and the occasional grin was luckily kept. The Farmer and his sheepdog Blitzer did, however, get a necessary makeover. Blitzer had been a huge problem for the animators from the start - his nose was so shiny that it was difficult to light and his plasticine body kept getting smudged and was hard to move, so completely new puppets were designed that now simulated fur and split the head and mouth into two parts. This was less noticable on Blitzer, whose fur was simply two-coloured now, but on the redesigned Farmer this meant a noticeable line through the face, which usually would have been digitally in post-production, but the budget did not allow this so the "beard line" was simply left in.
Although these changes were vital to streamline the already extremely time-intensive stop-motion filming process, there was some backlash from the fans of Shaun the Sheep, who were disappointed by the perceived cheap look of the characters. The animators, most notable series director Christopher Sadler himself, explained in detail about the necessity of the changes on the discussion board of Aardman's own Shaun the Sheep website, but some of the extremely disappointed fans were still downright rude. Others, however, understood why the changes were made and did not let themselves distract only by a slightly different look of the characters.
The writing also changed a little from the style of the previous series. Owing to the bigger influence of the German co-producers, the WDR Westdeutscher Rundfunk, the mini-plots were sometimes made simpler and the previously very british humour was made more universal - but luckily these changes remained miniscule and the majority of the stories still had the zany british Aardman sparkle geared towards children and adults alike. The scripts were again written by a multitude of authors both from the ranks of Aardman and from outside. Series creator Richard Goleszowski and director Christpher Sadler contributed to some episodes and even Wallace & Gromit creator Nick Park wrote a story, while the series also attracted other authors like the longtime Cosgrove Hall writer Jimmy Hibbert.
Several of the forty episodes share the common theme of the Farmer abandoning or forgetting something and then the unruly crowd of sheep having fun and often wrecking it, but due to the sheer number of episodes some similarities were unavoidable. Nevertheless, the majority of stories still seem very original and the humour is often more over the top than in the previous series, but does not resort to simple american cartoon violence at all. Instead there are a lot of pop-culture references for the grownups and no small amount of wonderfully animated physical slapstick for the kids, so that every age group has something to have fun with.
Breakneck chases, strange contraptions and circus acrobatics have always been an important part of Shaun the Sheep and in the second series these elements have been wonderfully improved. Something else is fortunately completely absent - a moral pointing finger or similar advice or learning points. Shaun the Sheep has and always will be fun in the first place and Aardman has often said that the show does not have an educational mandate.
The characterization of the animals and humans have also subtly changed for the better - Shaun may still be the most intelligent of the flock making him their natural leader, but he is also much more mischiveous now and often the one responsible for getting everybody into trouble. Most of the other sheep still remain anonymous with some exceptions - Shirley the giant butterball is still good for some subtle fat jokes and little Timmy and his anxious mother are frequently part of the stories. Blitzer has become more antropomorphic, sometimes he almost seems like a human servant, but at times he also reverts into a pure animal persona. Almost a new arrival is Pidsley, the Farmer's cat - the lazy feline has appeared with a different look in two earlier episodes, but now he has been made into a hissing, scheming and plotting antagonist who loves to get those pesky sheep into trouble and make them look as bad as possible. There's also a mouse around, enjoying the protection of the sheep against the cat, who is actually quite powerless against the evasive rodent.
The Farmer seems to have lost even more of his intelligence and is frequently upstaged by his sheep in many situations, but at the same time his flock often helps him without him knowing about it. He is still literally clueless about the shenanigans of his sheep but oddly accepts the human abilities of Blitzer, who even sometimes cooks for him and does other odd jobs around the house. Although he is often very grumpy and his face seems to be primarily designed for it, the Farmer is actually quite benevolent to his animals and even has a sort of girlfriend who he tries to court mostly unsuccessfully. Apart from the unnamed lady of his dreams, there are only few other humans around, but some other animals in minor roles appear. The three pigs of the farm are now less used in the stories, but a pair of ducks is frequently seen, often quacking disapprovingly at what is transpiring and an evil fox with surprisingly human traits reminiscent of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox sometimes wants to make the other farm animals his lunch, fortunately always without much success.
The voices are again supplied by John Sparkes, Justin Fletcher, Rich Webber and Katie Harbour, but again no real dialogue is being heard, only unintelligible babbling - but this is actually now a little more coherent than in the first series. Both the Farmer and Blitzer are now much more articulate without using any words and even the sheep, mostly Shaun himself, are not exclusively limited to simple baah-ing anymore. They all have one thing in common - they are all very much fun to listen to, because their "dialogue" has become humorous in itself and wonderfully unpredictable.
While the title song, sung by comedian Vic Reeves, was not changed for the second series, composer Mark Thomas wrote a whole new collection of tunes. Some of them were for general purposes and re-used in many episodes, but now several variations made the repetition far less obvious than it was in the first series. Surprisingly, Thomas also composed some special tunes for one-time use in several episodes, making the musical accompaniments much more interesting. While the budget still did not allow for a traditional orchestra, the styles as before ventured more into folk, jazz and the occasional pop and even rock, all very playfully arranged with a lot of swing and fun.
The second series of Shaun the Sheep was broadcast in three separate batches on BBC1 and BBC1HD and later on CBBC. The first twenty episodes were shown in November and December 2009, marking the triumphant return of the series and creating a lot of buzz about the future of the series, because at that time not all episodes were finished yet and the next broadcast dates were only revealed in early 2010. Like before, a few isolated episodes actually premiered on German television before they were shown in England - this was because the WDR as a co-producer had exclusive access to the series and sometimes decided to use a different broadcast order than the BBC. In May 2010 a further ten episodes were shown in England and the last ten were kept for the Christmas program in December 2010 because some specially themed episodes were made.
With series two, Shaun the Sheep had reassured its status as a special cult classic not only for children, but also for adults who love Aardman's very special animation style. The universal appeal of the series led to sales all over the world in over thirty countries - this time even to the USA, where a short-lived cooperation with the Disney Channel led to a one-time broadcast of the episodes. Unfortunately it was an exception that did not last long, because the American audiences simply were not interested in the still very British humour. But even without the US market, Shaun the Sheep rightfully remains one of the most successful endeavours of Aardman - a third series of twenty episodes has already aired worldwide in Spring 2013 and a feature-length cinema outing is already in preparation for 2015.
The forty episodes of the second series of Shaun the Sheep were at first released by 2Entertain and the BBC in England as the five separate DVDs Spring Lamb (March 2010), Two's Company (September 2010), Party Animals (November 2010), The Big Chase (April 2011) and We Wish Ewe a Merry Christmas (October 2011). A complete boxset containing the same five DVDs was also released on the day the final disc came out. This staggered release rhythm, with the full set only appearing one year after the initial broadcast finished, is a little disappointing, but considering that Shaun the Sheep is also often rerun, it is also understandable that the BBC wanted to hold the discs back.
There are releases in other countries, but the BBC discs are usually the best choice. Unfortunately there is no british Blu-Ray release despite the HD production and the German BDs are rumoured to have been taken from an upconverted 720p broadcast master, but the standard-definition DVDs reviewed in this article look surprisingly good and even better than the first series. Extras are almost non-existent, but there is an animatic of a whole episode on the fifth disc. Nevertheless this is the best release of Shaun the Sheep's second series, again housed in the same five-fold Digipack with a wonderful relief design on the thick slipcase.