The purpose of the Movies to Watch After column has always been to recommend the forebears of modern cinema, with all its constant classic film homages and other pop culture Easter eggs. Typically, I avoid the more obvious oldies in hopes that you’ve already seen them. But with movies for children, I like to highlight the popular essentials because kids are less likely to be familiar with the basics.
The animated sequel A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is such a family film that is wonderful on its own, as another dialogue-free claymation feature from Aardman with cute characters and tons of visually-driven gags and adventure, but also leans on a lot of references to famous science fiction movies. Here they are, recommended for the kids to watch next in order to appreciate their influence:
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
This is the most blatant inspiration, to the point that Farmageddon almost feels like a claymation remake of the beloved Steven Spielberg sci-fi drama about a boy and his new alien friend. The plot of the second Shaun the Sheep film is about a boy sheep and his new alien friend, who like E.T. must figure out a way to get back home to his family while avoiding capture from government authorities and scientists.
There are plot beats lifted from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, from the start with the extra-terrestrial Lu-La being lured peacefully with food. And then there are iconic shots recreated for gags that work only for those of us who’ve seen the source, including multiple nods to the bicycle ride in front of the Moon bit (see one of Bitzer the dog’s signs at the beginning plus the more obvious moment with the flying recycling bin) plus a tribute to E.T.’s magical presentation of where his planet is compared to Earth. E.T. is also the most family-friendly of the features referenced in Farmageddon, meaning much of its audience, in fact, could be familiar already, but also any who aren’t can dig immediately into this pick right away.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Another Spielberg sci-fi classic that is heavily referenced in Farmageddon is this earlier, slightly scarier movie. The tribute is, almost entirely, of the audio kind and starts before the Shaun the Sheep sequel even begins. The sheep playing the keyboard in the Aardman production logo hits notes calling to mind the musical conversation between Earth’s scientists and the alien mothership in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Later, the government agents access their secret base by playing the iconic five-note phrase from the movie, which is both an homage for viewers and possibly an in-film appreciation by the characters. The alien parents’ vehicle at the end also looks reminiscent of the mothership from Close Encounters.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick’s then-future-set masterpiece is not necessarily inappropriate for the main audience of Farmageddon — in fact, this collaboration with Arthur C. Clarke is rated G, suggesting it’s fine for all ages — but the hard sci-fi subject matter is likely to bore or go over children’s heads. However, if the kids appreciate the relatively “silent” cinema approach of the Shaun the Sheep franchise, they might be okay with some of the dialogue-free visual spectacle of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Either way, they will find some moments familiar: the burnt toast popping out of the toaster with the sun behind it set to “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” is a nod to the introduction of the Monolith during 2001‘s opening sequence. And that same fanfare by Richard Strauss, which is sort of the main theme for Kubrick’s film, plays later at the point of introduction of the Farmageddon attraction. Then there’s another music cue from 2001, Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube,” when Shaun, Lu-La, and Bitzer experience zero gravity and then encounter the International Space Station in reference to related sequences in the Kubrick.
This movie is not going to play well for the little ones, as it is one of the scariest movies of all time, but that’s okay since the nod is not as prominent as the others. When Lu-La pops out from the big sheep Shirley’s coat of wool, the little extra-terrestrial does so in the chest area. Surely that’s a visual reference to the iconic chest-bursting baby Xenomorph from the original Alien. This isn’t the first movie geared toward younger audiences that has such an homage — there’s already kiddie parodies in Shrek 2, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Despicable Me 2, and Ice Age: Collision Course (not to mention Spaceballs, which also skews younger). Many kids see some reenactment of the scene before they experience the real deal.
RoboCop (1987) and WALL-E (2008)
Even less appropriate for children, RoboCop seems to get a shoutout with the transformed van robot suit operated by the woman in black in Farmageddon. Much more appropriate for children, WALL-E seems to be referenced with the government agency’s robot assistant — unless they’re paying homage to Short Circuit. Maybe both are a stretch, but I’m surely not the only person to think of the two famous robots, the former being the villainous machine in the first RoboCop, while watching the Shaun the Sheep sequel.
A Grand Day Out (1989)
Here’s one that’s more the speed and style of Farmageddon. While not as famous as the other four titles on this list and unlike them it’s only an Oscar nominee (for Best Animated Short) and not a winner, A Grand Day Out is definitely a sci-fi classic. It’s also, like the Shaun the Sheep franchise, from Aardman Animation. The short is the first entry in the studio’s Wallace and Gromit franchise, of which the Shaun the Sheep series and films are spin-offs, and it’s about a trip to the Moon for a picnic because the lunar body is literally made of cheese. There’s a clip from A Grand Day Out showing on televisions in Farmageddon, which is kind of weird if their stories are part of the same universe.