SHAUN THE SHEEP
PRODUCED BY: Aardman Animations
CREATOR: Nick Park (character), Richard Goleszowski (series)
COMPOSER: Mark Thomas
DEBUT: 5 March 2007
Shaun the Sheep is a plasticene stop-motion animated television series which follows the exploits of a flock of sheep on a farm somewhere in the English countryside. The programme also features the unnamed Farmer and his sheepdog, Bitzer, with occasional appearances by other farm animals, such as pigs, ducks, chickens, and a bull.
The animals are all somewhat anthropomorphic, exhibiting human-like skill with farm equipment and even constructing their own tools to complete a task.
Shaun episodes are typically 7 minutes in length, with emphasis on sight-gags. There is no actual dialogue, even from human characters, making the series more similar to Silent-era slapstick comedy films. Parallels have been noted between Shaun and another BBC programme, Pingu, as the characters in both will make sounds similar to their real-world counterparts, but used as a spoken language.
Shaun - The title character. Introduced in the 1995 Wallace & Gromit short film, A Close Shave, where he is seen as an escapee from Preston’s wool and dog-food factory. Wallace names him “Shaun” after an incident with the Knit-O-Matic machine leaves him completely shaved (or “shorn”, hence “Shaun”). He frequently stands upright, like a human. He is also the only independent sheep in the flock, coming up with his own ideas (which he draws on a chalkboard) and the means by which to carry them out. He can operate most kinds of machines, first demonstrated in A Close Shave (he uses a circular saw to break Gromit out of prison and later steers Wallace's motorcycle). Physically, Shaun is slimmer than the rest of the flock and has a tuft of wool on his head (which may actually be a hat). He also occasionally helps Bitzer the Sheepdog keep the flock out of trouble.
Timmy - Said to be Shaun's cousin, Timmy is the baby in the flock (though he has a full coat of wool, more akin to an adult sheep than a lamb). He is frequently seen with a pacifier and, less often, a teddy-bear. Occasionally, Timmy is used as a tool -- in the first series episode, "The Kite", Shaun used Timmy as a blackboard eraser. Timmy is the star of a Shaun spin-off, entitled Timmy Time, whose target audience is pre-schoolers.
Timmy's Mum - An unnamed ewe who is Timmy's mother, thus, Shaun's aunt. There is a slight family resemblance between Timmy's mum and Shaun, in that they both have tufts of wool on their heads, in which Timmy's mum wears rollers. Whilst she does exhibit love toward Timmy, becoming hysterical if he goes missing, she does occasionally treat him strangely. For example, in "Still Life", she used him as a paintbrush.
Shirley - The largest sheep in the flock, Shirley tends to eat anything in sight, regardless of whether it is actually food (a quality which was exhibited by Shaun in A Close Shave). She appears to have an aversion to moving, only doing so if lured by something edible. Usually, several sheep have to push her about (with great effort). However, in the first series episode, “Tooth Fairy”, she runs through the gate on Bitzer’s request. In the episode, “Shape Up With Shaun”, she was put on an intense exercise regimen and was thin for a brief period (a mishap involving Timmy, a cartful of bricks, and a pastry van restored Shirley to her standard shape). She uses her fleece like pockets, storing items in it, such as a bicycle horn, a boot, and several food items. She is also occasionally used by Shaun or another character as a springboard or a cushioning device for breaking a fall. There has been some confusion about Shirley’s gender – despite the character’s feminine name (which is never mentioned onscreen), a male voice actor provides the character with low-toned vocal sounds.
The Flock - Approximately fifteen unnamed sheep comprise the flock. They tend to move about as a group -- it is uncommon for a sheep of the flock to do anything independently of the others. Bitzer checks off each one as they enter the pasture. If a gate is left open, one of the flock will take notice and inform the others, causing them to enter somewhere they should not and cause trouble there. There are at least three ewes and five rams in the flock, give or take (not counting Shaun, Shirley, and Timmy's Mum).
Bitzer - The Farmer’s sheepdog, Bitzer serves something of an administrative role on the farm. He is often seen with a clipboard containing a graphical list of all tasks that need to be completed that day (including putting the sheep out to pasture, feeding the pigs, milking the cows, and collecting eggs from the henhouse), which he checks off with a red pencil as they are finished. As the bouncer in the first series episode, “Saturday Night Shaun”, his clipboard contained a list of animals to admit into Shaun’s ‘disco’ and those not to admit (which seemed only to be the Pigs). He uses a whistle to give commands to the farm animals. When the Farmer issues commands, Bitzer will give a salute in reply. Occasionally, he will lose control of the flock, particularly when bathing is involved or if something distracts them. He wears a knit cap, a broken wristwatch on his left wrist, and an elastic wristband on his right. When he buries a bone, he will dig a hole so deep that it tends to become a tunnel, fortified with a locking metal door. Bitzer seems to be the only one able to get away with acting more like a human around the Farmer – he only acts like a dog when sticks, bones, or Frisbees are involved.
"She-Bitzer" - An unnamed female dog who appears to be of the same breed as Bitzer (hence, "She-Bitzer"). In "Fetching", her owners were on a camping holiday in the field near the pasture, where Bitzer encountered her after retrieving a Frisbee thrown by Shaun. After briefly tossing the Frisbee about with her, Bitzer became aware of the flock having entered the farmhouse and excused himself to deal with them. On his return to the campsite, he found that "She-Bitzer's" owners had packed up their car and were driving away. "She-Bitzer" was last seen looking back at Bitzer through the rear windscreen of the car as it drove off.
The Pigs - Three unnamed pigs who reside in a sty on the other side of a stone fence from the pasture. They are usually troublemakers who like playing tricks on the sheep. However, they will stop their tricks when commanded so to do by Bitzer. The pigs are very territorial about their sty. If a sheep (usually Shaun) strays over the fence for any reason, they will engage it in a short scuffle before throwing it back over the fence. Whilst the pigs eat mostly slop, they prefer fresh vegetables and fruits. They are terrified by the sight of sausages.
The Mallard - A male Mallard duck who flies onto the farm occasionally. He is sometimes treated as a "redshirt" character to whom something odd happens (freezing in the cold sheepdip, being de-feathered by Mower Mouth, etc.). Often, he is seen with one or two female Mallards.
Mower Mouth - A goat whom the Farmer acquired to graze on the grass in his front garden (hence, "Mower" Mouth). However, after eating some of the Farmer's clothes from the clothesline, he is sent to the pasture, where he demonstrates his ravenous taste for anything (eating Bitzer's clipboard, a tyre from the rubbish dump, and bricks, among other things).
The Bull - A large, short-tempered bull that will charge at anything coloured red. After the pigs played a trick on the sheep by filling the sheepdip with red paint, Shaun played toreador and managed to turn the tables on them by setting the Bull loose in the pigsty.
The Farmer - The unnamed owner of the farm on which the series takes place, the Farmer has apparently lived there most of his life. He is usually out working the fields in his tractor, or in town in his truck, leaving Bitzer to contend with the animals. He seems oblivious to the activities of his sheep, either because they take such great care in covering their tracks that he remains unaware or he is too unobservant to notice. He seems not to care that Bitzer acts more like a human than a dog.
Other human characters - Though the programme focusses primarily on the flock of sheep, several human characters apart from the Farmer have made appearances.
The Farmer's Niece is a school-aged girl who enjoys tormenting the sheep. She has only appeared once, having been seen getting dragged back into the farmhouse by the Farmer after using Shaun as a horse and being thrown into a large cake the Farmer had baked for her.
The Old Lady was first seen on the bus in the series one episode, “Take Away”. Shaun and two other sheep, dressed as a man in a coat, are offered a piece of candy by the Old Lady. However, as the gloves on the sheep’s disguise are not dextrous enough to take a piece, Shaun ended up knocking the bag onto the floor, spilling its contents, to which the Old Lady responded by repeatedly hitting the sheep with her handbag. She was also seen in the episode, “Save the Tree”, where she was sitting on a bench under a falling tree which Bitzer and the Farmer had sawn down. The tree landed on the unoccupied side of the bench, catapulting the Old Lady into the air. The Farmer managed to catch her and was rewarded with a whack in the face from the Old Lady’s handbag.
Holidaymakers have taken up temporary residence in the field across the fence from or have walked through the pasture. In "Camping Chaos", one particularly nasty holidaymaker set up his tent in the middle of the pasture, itself, and littered it with rubbish. Shaun and Bitzer got back at him by moving his tent to the top of a rubbish pile in the middle of the night. In "Shaun Shoots the Sheep", two tourists strolled through the pasture to take photographs and accidentally dropped their camera, which Shaun and the pigs used to take photographs themselves.
The Part-Timer is a lanky teenaged boy with acne who is seen delivering various items to the farmhouse as a pizza-delivery boy and as a postman. In "Take Away", Shaun and two sheep dressed as a man in a coat purchased several pizzas from the Part-Timer in exchange for three buttons, a comb, a kazoo, and a frog. In "Saturday Night Shaun", after the Part-Timer delivered the Farmer's new digital sound-system, Bitzer attacked him and stole his hat (which he later wore as the bouncer at Shaun's disco). The Part-Timer was also seen walking away from the farmhouse in a postal uniform in "Heavy Metal Shaun", presumably after delivering the Farmer's metal-detector.
The series takes place primarily at the following locations.
The Pasture - A large field between the barn and the farmhouse where the sheep can usually be found. The pasture is enclosed by gorse-bushes and a stone fence with several gates. In the pasture is a large tree, which the sheep use for many purposes, including hiding in and behind, swinging from, bungee-jumping, and climbing. When he was a boy, the Farmer carved a smile-face in the tree, which stopped him chopping it down in "Save The Tree". Attached to the pasture is the sheepdip, the pigsty, and the dump.
The Sheepdip - The sheepdip is a sort of narrow, shallow swimming pool, which is filled using two poolside faucets (hot and cold). It is accessible from either a gate leading to the farmhouse or a brick control-chute (through which Shirley will not fit). In "Bathtime", the hot-water faucet breaks down and the cold sheepdip freezes the Mallard.
The Pigsty - The pigs can be found here. Whilst mostly containing mud, the sty also features a small Quonset Hut in which at least one of the pigs sleep and a stone compost shed at the far end. An apple tree grows on the side of the sty farthest away from the pasture, which the pigs defended from the sheep in "Scrumping". Shaun once tricked the Bull to charge through the sty, bumping each of the pigs before crashing into the compost shed.
The Dump - A large pile of rubbish at the far side of the pasture from the farmhouse. Contained there is an old stove, a broken matress, several sections of rusty metal flashing, hoses, a toilet, and anything else the Farmer has thrown out. When the sheep require a tool or a simple machine to complete a task, they often look in the rubbish dump for the necessary parts. In "Tidy Up" Shaun and Bitzer accidentally sucked up the dump into the Farmer's vacuum cleaner.
The Farmhouse - The Farmer's house. It is a two-story house built primarily of stone, featuring a chimney and a television aerial on the roof. Occasionally, Shaun and at least two other sheep will make a stealthy incursion on the farmhouse to retrieve something. If the gate between the house and the pasture is left open whilst the Farmer is out, the sheep will enter the house and wreak general havoc, which Shaun and Bitzer have to clean up quickly before the Farmer returns.
Bitzer's Doghouse - A place where Bitzer sleeps and spends his off-hours. It seems to have a strange amount of interior space for its outward appearance, containing at least enough room for a billiards table. Despite its deceptively large interior, Bitzer sleeps with his head outside the door. Sometimes the doghouse is next to the barn, sometimes it is behind the farmhouse.
The Barn - A place where the sheep go whilst not out grazing. They sleep in the barn on pillows, cushions, and bales of hay. The Farmer also maintains a workshop in the barn behind a metal door at the back. He shears the sheep in this room individually, slamming the door behind him as he enters. The barn also has a side-door which the pigs once used to scare the sheep with a jack-o-lantern and ghostly noises. In "Saturday Night Shaun", the sheep converted the barn into a disco after discovering the Farmer's junked LP turntable.
The Field - A pedestrian meadow on the other side of the stone fence from the pasture. Not being part of the Farmer's land, people will occasionally camp out here or stroll through. In "Big Top Timmy", a circus pitched their tent in the field.
Music - It seems that all of the farm animals, particularly Bitzer and the flock of sheep, enjoy listening to music. In "Mountains Out of Molehills", a Rock 'N Roll song came over Bitzer's radio, to which the sheep started dancing whilst Shaun performed the air-guitar.
In "Saturday Night Shaun", the sheep converted the barn into a discotheque after discovering the Farmer's junked LP turntable. As deejay, Shaun played mostly disco. The pigs, after crashing the party, played speed-rock.
In "Still Life", the Farmer tuned his radio to a classical music station to provide ambience whilst painting.
In his spare time, Bitzer is often seen listening to an MP3 player.
Belching - After a character eats something, typically they will belch. Shirley tends to do the most belching, as she is usually the one eating. After eating the Farmer's digital sound-system in "Saturday Night Shaun", Shirley would belch music, which the sheep used as an alternate disco after the pigs' antics ruined the first one.
In "Take Away", the Farmer belched after eating a slice of pizza. Whilst he was taking out the rubbish later that night, Shirley frightened him by belching as she and the rest of the flock were hiding behind the scarecrow.
In "Camping Chaos", the holidaymaker exits his tent, drinks from a tin and belches before casting the tin away indiscriminately.
The Scarecrow - Whilst the traditional role of a scarecrow is to frighten small animals away from a vegetable garden, the sheep have used the scarecrow to scare other creatures, such as the pigs. In "Things That Go Bump", to get back at the pigs for frightening them, the sheep dressed the scarecrow like a butcher holding a rope of sausages to frighten the pigs. When he came to investigate, the Farmer was somewhat startled by the costumed scarecrow, but was scared away by a mouse inside a glove.
In "Take Away", the scarecrow was deprived of its clothing in order to provide Shaun and two sheep with a disguise.
Y-Fronts - When the Farmer hangs his washing out to dry, it usually includes a pair of green Y-fronts, which usually end up somewhere in the pasture. In "Shape Up With Shaun", Shaun took down the Farmer's clothesline for use as a jump-rope for Shirley. When she was unable to jump over the rope, she ended up with the Y-fronts on her head.
In "Timmy in a Tizzy", Shaun used the clothesline and the Y-fronts like a bungee-cord to retrieve Timmy's teddy-bear from the farmhouse.
In the end-credits animation on the Shaun the Sheep compilation DVDs, Shaun and a few sheep are looking down, confused, at a pair of Y-fronts.
Shaun has been seen wearing a pair of red Y-fronts under his fleece. The scarecrow was also seen wearing a pair of Y-fronts in "Take Away".
Distractions - In several episodes, the farm animals are seen being distracted by something, usually as a stereotype. For example, Bitzer can be distracted by sticks, bones, or Frisbees. The Farmer's cat in "Timmy in a Tizzy" is distracted by a ball of yarn, which Shaun quickly spins using fleece from the sheep on his left.
The sheep can be distracted by anything, though usually as a plot-point, rather than a stereotype.
Differences in Series Two
For reasons unknown, several changes were made to the characters in the second series. Most notably, Bitzer appeared simply as flat plasticene in series one (similar to Gromit), where he appears to have fur in series two.
The Farmer's cat is known as "Pidsley" in series two. Pidsley appears to have fur also, but he differs greatly in appearance to the cat seen in the series one episodes, "Timmy in a Tizzy" and "Saturday Night Shaun". The differences are so significant that some have speculated Pidsley and the cat from series one are not the same character.
The pigs were also redesigned, sporting narrower heads and sharper teeth. It has also been speculated that these are not the same pigs from the first series.
The Farmer in series two has a certain amount of facial hair. Also, the Farmer's Girlfriend (who somewhat resembles Piella Bakewell) was introduced in this series.
Shaun and the flock of sheep, however, have remained relatively unchanged. Though, perhaps as an ovine counterpart to "She-Bitzer", a one-time character called Lola was introduced in "Two's Company" as a love-interest for Shaun.
The series' music was composed by English television and cinema composer, Mark Thomas (whose previous credits include the Aardman productions, Pib & Pog and Purple & Brown), with the title theme being performed by comedian, Vic Reeves.
Thomas's "He's Shaun the Sheep" leitmotif is used in nearly the entire score, but altered in certain ways to make it more suitable for the situation. Typically, Shaun's theme is played by a banjo -- however, the banjo part can be replaced by a short motif for another character (a bassoon for the pigs, for instance). The most commonly-heard song in the series is an instrumental rendition of the title theme for two banjos, though other songs, not directly based on this motif, do exist and are used for various "action" situations (a circus-like piece based on Julius Fucik's Entrance of the Gladiators, two action pieces based on different parts of Lalo Schifrin's Mission: Impossible theme, a suspenseful chamber-orchestra piece, etc.).
Whilst the majority of the series' score was recorded from a synthesiser, the banjo duet in the series' main song is, in fact, acoustic.
The Mind's Rubbish Bin
Shaun's last appearance in the Wallace & Gromit series was in the final installment of Cracking Contraptions, "Shopper 13". The "probe" which Wallace has Gromit "launch" to retrieve a stranded wheel of edam is a skateboard with Shaun wearing a space-helmet. Reaching the wheel of cheese, Shaun proceeds to eat it. Fans have speculated that this, along with Gromit's unwillingness to "go for him!", may have been Wallace's motivation for sending Shaun away.
The original plasticene filming model of Shaun, as seen in A Close Shave and Cracking Contraptions, was destroyed along with the vast majority of props, sets, and characters from many Aardman productions in a fire which consumed the Aardman storage warehouse in 2005. This required a new model be built for Shaun the Sheep -- some of the crew attribute the differences between Shaun then and Shaun now to the character's natural aging process.
Shaun the Sheep is the third Aardman-produced animation to feature sheep. The first was A Close Shave in 1995, the second was a series of American television adverts for for Serta mattresses.
Shaun, being a spin-off itself, has had another programme spun off from it. Called Timmy Time, it focusses on Shaun's cousin, Timmy.
Bitzer the Sheepdog may have been named for Billy Bitzer, an early 20th-century stop-motion animator and creator of The Sculptor's Welsh Rarebit Nightmare.
Bitzer has been likened to Snoopy from the comic-strip, Peanuts. Snoopy sleeps on top of his doghouse, though in the same direction as Bitzer. Snoopy is primarily bipedal, like Bitzer. Both characters appear to have human-like intellectual capacity and both characters get by with acting like humans around their masters (though Charlie Brown would prefer it if Snoopy acted more like a dog). Also, Snoopy's doghouse has been reported to be "much bigger on the inside" (which is seen in It's Magic, Charlie Brown).
In "Hiccups", Shaun turns his amplifier up to "11", referencing This is Spinal Tap.
In "Fleeced", the Farmer drags a sheep into his workshop and slams the door, then shearing sounds can be heard from the other side -- a reference to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
In "Shape Up With Shaun", Shaun weighs Shirley using bricks. According to the diagram on the chalkboard, Shirley is the equivalent weight of 27 bricks. A common brick weighs approximately 2.5 kg, meaning that Shirley weighs approximately 67.5 kg (about 150 lbs).
A robin-like bird makes occasional appearances on fences or telephone lines. The bird resembles a costume worn by Gromit in the Cracking Contraptions installment, "Christmas Cardomatic".
In A Close Shave, Shaun is seen eating anything in sight, whether it is food-related or not (cheese, plants, picture-frames, foot-rests, etc.). This character trait appears to have been transferred to Shirley.
Two of the three named sheep have names beginning with "sh" sounds (i.e. "Shaun", "Shirley"). Timmy is the exception. Fans have named the rest of the flock using similar naming conventions (e.g. "Seamus", "Siobhan", "Shane", "Shannon", "Sheldon").
In "The Visitor", the alien flogs his crashed ship with a tree-branch, reminiscent of Basil Fawlty.
In "Off the Baa!", Shaun and one of the pigs attempt to intercept a head of cabbage in midair. This is a double-reference: the pig "flies", contrary to the cliché phrase ("...when pigs fly") -- Shaun "flying" is a reference to the Monty Python sketch involving flying sheep (in which, Graham Chapman's character remarks that "a sheep is not a creature of the air").
Shaun and Gromit in A Close Shave.
The flock (Shaun at front-right).
Bitzer with his clipboard (series one).
Shaun pushing Shirley in a shopping cart.
The pigs guarding the apple tree
The Old Lady and Shaun (in disguise).
Shaun the Sheep Official Website
Shaun the Sheep on Wikipedia
Shaun the Sheep from the Internet Movie Database
A Close Shave on the Wallace & Gromit Official Site
A Close Shave from the Internet Movie Database.
Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, and all related indicia are the property of Aardman Animations. Copyright © 1995, 2007-2011 Aardman.
Page coding and layout by J. Sebastian Perry (a.k.a. Spiny McSpleen).