Shaun the Sheep (TV series)

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-11-45-41-amShaun the Sheep is a stop-motion animated TV series from Aardman Animation, starring the eponymous Shaun, who first appeared as a character in the Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave. These 7-minute episodes are wordless and quite delightful, and mostly involve the sheep getting themselves into and out of a variety of humorous scrapes. The show is a bit more boisterous than we usually want our kids to see: it’s better as a Saturday morning show than for watching before bed. (The spin-off show Timmy Time, intended for toddlers, is even more chaotic, so we are avoiding that one entirely). On the negative side, I find the theme music a bit repetitive, and it tends to get stuck in the head.

Age: 4+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 7 minute episodes
Available: CBBC, Google Play, and Youtube

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Pingwings

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-8-06-43-pmIf you’re in the mood for penguins, but find Pingu a bit too boisterous and March of the Penguins a bit too dramatic, then Pingwings might be just what you’re looking for. It’s a sweet, gentle, and gently humorous show, which tells of the adventures of a family of hand-knit penguin-like creatures living on a farm, with mixed stop motion animation and live action. It’s one of the earlier shows by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s company Smallfilms (best known for Bagpuss and the Clangers). The original Pingwings were knit by Peter’s wife Joan. You can knit your own following this pattern from The Dragons’ Friendly Society.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 8
Adult rating: 8
Running time: 10 minute episodes
Available: a few episodes are available on Youtube, or you can order the whole series from The Dragons’ Friendly Society

The Wind in the Willows (1983)

br-wind-in-the-willowsThis is a very nicely done stop-motion animated version, which sticks closely to the book. We watched about half an hour of it, and then M. (4 years old) complained that it was “boring.” I tried to convince him that there’s no such thing as boring, that this was a very nice film, and that he should give it a chance. And then I burst out laughing because I realized that I had always found The Wind in the Willows (whether as a book or a movie) boring too. I include this here because it is good, and I wish we liked it – but we just do not seem to be a Wind in the Willows family. (It’s not that we’re immune to the charms of early 20th century anthropomorphic British animals – we just seem to prefer the Beatrix Potter tales!)

Age: 1+
Child rating: N/A (we’re not the right ones to judge)
Adult rating: N/A
Running time: 79 minutes
Available: there are various free versions online

Frog and Toad are Friends; Frog and Toad Together

BR Frog ad ToadWe’ve been postponing watching the film versions of many of the books we like (such as the Moomintrolls and the Gruffalo) so that M. has the book version in his mind first, but we’ve already been reading Frog and Toad to him for two years, and since this movie version is voiced by the author, Arnold Lobel, we figured it wouldn’t stray too far from the original spirit or aesthetic of the books. Each of these movies consists of several short, gently humorous vignettes, reenacted in claymation. The humour is often on several levels – some silliness (eg. Frog pouring water on his head) that appeals to toddlers, and some subtler, more philosophical humour that only older children and adults would get. The claymation is generally lovely, though occasionally falls into a bit of an “uncanny valley” (if one can call it that for frogs and toads).

Age: 2+
Adult rating: 8/10
Child rating: 8/10
Running time: each movie 18 minutes
Available free on Youtube

Tchou-Tchou

Tchou-Tchou is another lovely Co Hoedemans/Normand Roger film from the National Film Board of Canada. This one features animated building blocks, and a dragon that gets turned into a train. It’s a bit faster paced than the Sand Castle.

Age: 2 1/2+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 14 minutes
Available free on the NFB website

The Sand Castle

This was one of my favourite films when I was a kid, and I’m delighted that it’s one of M.’s favourite films too. It’s a National Film Board of Canada film, by Co Hoedemans, and features beautiful and imaginative stop-motion animated sand creatures. There are no words, and the soundtrack is a well-composed neo-renaissance-ish score by Normand Roger.

Age: 1+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 14 minutes
Available free on the NFB website