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Movie review: 'Sheep and Wolves' (2016)

Your rating: None Average: 4.6 (9 votes)

A Russian poster for the movie.Sheep & Wolves (trailer) is an 85-minute Russian CG-animated movie that came out in 2016, also known as Волки и овцы (Volki i ovtsy). The writing and production took five years by Wizart Animation, whose earlier film had been The Snow Queen (2012).

Sheep & Wolves didn't quite break even at the box office, and received mixed reviews. After I watched it, I have to agree it's a middle-of-the-road film. It's not bad, it's not great - it's thoroughly so-so. On the positive side, the animation is good and very furry! But the writing... it's for kids aged six and above. There's not much in it to appeal to adults; it's what I call a "babysitting film". Plunk your tykes down in front of it and keep them distracted for a while. Still, I'd rank it a notch or two above Alpha & Omega.

So - we've got some sheep and we've got some wolves. The sheep live in a town with some level of technological sophistication. The wolves have recently moved into the area and live a more primitive lifestyle. The pack leader, Magra, intends to retire and unfortunately there are only two candidates to replace him. Ragear, a tyrannical bully, and Grey (our main character), who's an ok guy but also a clownish goofball. By tradition, they're supposed to fight each other to determine who will become the pack's new leader.

Grey is lucky enough to be courting Bianca, one of the best female wolves in the pack, but like everything else in his life, he's not taking her seriously. Fed up with waiting for him to change, she dumps him. Dejected, he comes across a travelling gypsy fortune-telling rabbit named Mami, who gives him a magic potion. Grey wants to change so that Bianca will love him again, and he does change - but into a ram.

Grey, before and after his change into a ram.The rest of the film involves Grey staying with the sheep and becoming friends with them as he grows more responsible. Tensions between the wolves and the sheep escalate. With Grey missing, Ragear bullies his way into having more control of the pack, without any respect for their traditional laws. Eventually it's an all-out conflict between the two groups, with Grey facing the possibility that he'll be stuck as a ram forever. Things work out in the end!

Character-wise, everyone's pretty shallow. Grey's a well-meaning goof, Ragear's an asshole, and each main sheep has its quirk. There's Ziko, who's smart but suspicious and disliked. Moz is a socially awkward guy who's also annoying in that he won't shut up (kind of like me) and doesn't know how to talk to the sheep he loves. Lyra's a kind-hearted ewe who runs a beauty salon and watches out for her impulsive younger brother who needs rescuing a couple of times. There's the pudgy sheep who likes eating, the superstitious sheep, the seagull who pretends he's a sheep, the hon hon hon arrogant French sheep, and a musk ox. None of the few female characters are especially remarkable. Towards the end of the film you find out that Bianca is not to be trifled with, but most of the time her scenes feel like nude blue wolf furry fanservice.

Bianca can't enjoy her sandwich.In terms of character design, the male wolves are very triangular with broad shoulders, narrow waists, and five-fingered hands (except for one of them who only has four). The sheep have a (slightly) wider range of designs. Most have short curly wool and smooth faces, some with horns or a bit of facial fuzz. Some are fuzzy all over, and all of them have three-fingered hands. I bring this up because when Grey becomes a sheep, the story relies on no one being able to easily recognize his former self (despite one character having before-and-after photos). Grey's fur pattern kind of reverses and he grows horns; his ears, tail, hands and feet change, and there's maybe a slight shift in his facial features.

There are also several rodents who show up very briefly - I wish the film had done more with them! If I hadn't known in advance that the gypsies were rabbits, it would've taken me a little more time to figure it out - they're lop-eared and hang their ears behind their heads. But really, despite my complaining, I really liked the animation in this movie. There were scenes with a lot of stuff going on and huge crowds, and it worked. Facial expressions, trees, grass, water, mountains, the special effects for when magic gets used... it was all good! Outright surreal in one later sequence. (You'll know when you go "What is that doing there?!")

I do wish certain scenes were a bit shorter. At several points, for comedic effect a character will become frantic and run around babbling - this was overused. Moz's socially awkward schtick was tedious, and unfortunately he's Grey's wacky sidekick for most of the film. I was rather irritated that while Grey's story arc is to become a better, less goofy person, Moz isn't held to the same standard at all. To my surprise though, in one scene Grey calls everyone out on their annoying characteristics! There's also a cheap fake-out near the end, plus one of those "If we let them die we're no better than them" scenes, and the dance party ending... is a Rickroll. In the English version, at least.

Speaking of language, even though the film is from Russia, it was animated to match English dialogue! In Russia, it was dubbed into Russian. (Except for the dance party which is synced to a Russian song, and isn't a Rickroll.) The English voice acting is ok; some characters are better than others. At many points I felt they were speaking too fast.

Most of the main sheep characters.

So overall, it's super-furry, well-animated, but the plot is very juvenile. On the bright side, no toilet humor! I don't think this is the sort of film I'd sit down to show to friends, but I think the tolerance levels for its furriness versus its plot are going to vary a lot from person to person. If you survived watching Alpha & Omega, you'll survive this, easy. It's got appeal for furry wolf fans, if you don't mind the sheep during most of it. (I'm tempted to edit my copy down to something more streamlined, which I would show to friends.)

Where can you watch this movie? ...Good question. My copy was a pirated one with the credits chopped off that I found on YouTube, but it's gone now. I'm not subscribed to any of the online streaming services to know if it's there. While searching online, it looks like it might have been released on Blu-ray and DVD in Australia? I am genuinely astonished by its scarcity. If you know of a reliable source where it can be watched or purchased, please post a reply!

This is the third in a series of reviews of recent Russian movies of potential furry interest. (First, second.)

The gypsy rabbit, about to enthusiastically chug a bottle of liquid courage.

Grey and Bianca having a tender moment together, which also shows wolves with an unusually high degree of sexual dimorphism ... I've ruined the mood, haven't I

Comments

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

"Volki i Ovtsy" is "Wolves vs. Sheep", not "Sheep and Wolves". The Canadian & U.S. distributors have reversed the title and turned the "versus" into "and". This Russian poster shows "Wolves vs. Sheep".

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

A Wikipedia article isn’t a trailer. Try this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRa0N7n6jI0

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

You're confusing two hyperlinks for one. The first hyperlink is "Sheep & Wolves", which goes to a Wikipedia article. The second hyperlink, "(trailer)", goes to a trailer, which I specifically chose for its brevity in comparison to the longer one you've linked to, that was a deliberate editorial choice.

And yes, I'm aware of the reversal of the two nouns (овцы shares the same root as ovine). I didn't feel that the switching of the two words was significant. I used the word order that the film was marketed with, so that if anyone goes looking for it online, searching for it as an exact phrase will give results.

Fred, I appreciate your contributions to Flayrah, and I know you like to correct "errors", but seriously, choose your battles for things that, y'know, matter.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (4 votes)

Sorry. I didn’t realize that was two hyperlinks instead of one. I just saw “Sheep & Wolves (trailer)” and clicked on what I assumed was the whole thing.

Russian animation tends to be just for kids. I don’t think there are any Russian animated features that aren’t age-rated “6+”. Wizart is the major “international” studio. Its features are dubbed into American English for a hoped-for American theatrical release that they haven’t gotten yet.

Melnitsa (pronounced “Melnitsia”) is the other major Russian studio. Its features are more for the domestic market. Its movies don’t have many anthropomorphic characters, but Julius the comic-relief horse in the “Three Heroes” features does stand out. Melnitsa has also animated Alexander Volkov’s 1963 original Oz novel, “Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers”, with the Cowardly Lion, Toto (Totoshka), and the others.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYKW1DOsDE0

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wizard_of_the_Emerald_City

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

Yup! And my next Russian film review will be a Melnitsa production! Иван Царевич и Серый Волк is definitely domestic. I found some English subtitles, but they're terrible - there's been no English commercial release that I know of. When I get around to watching it (I've only skimmed so far), I'm pretty sure I'm going to be missing a lot of subtleties and cultural context. But hey, it looks like it's got a sassy wolf as a protagonist, so why not!

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

Yarst. I found it on YouTube, but untranslated. I’ll continue to look for it with subtitles.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRzEzLlD8Nk

Here’s Melnitsa’s trailer for “Urfin Jus”. Around the 1970s s-f author Keith Laumer’s brother March Laumer had Volkov’s novel translated into English and published in Hong Kong, unfortunately without Vladimirski’s illustrations. It was a Soviet-era translation, and Ellie (Dorothy), the Scarecrow, and the others rallied the peasants into the Oz People’s Liberation Army to overthrow Urfin Jus. I imagine that’s translated differently today.

But Melnitsa's movie is faithful to Vladimirski's original book illustration character designs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19XY6SdvHnE

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

Come now, Dronon – if you didn't write a paragraph about the meaning of the reversal, how would he know you knew? Wording is serious business! :-)

Clearly, they had a reason to do it, so there is some significance somewhere. Maybe Russians are bigger fans of wolves?

Your rating: None Average: 2 (5 votes)

I'm sorry, but I'm just not seeing the "fanservice" here. At least not in that clip you linked. Yes, the female wolves look more feminine, but mostly in the face, with slightly longer legs because, again, that's typical of how cartoons try to anthropomorphize animals. I can see how furries might let their imaginations run with that scene, the way they gaze at each other as she softly touches his chest, etc, but that's animation-speak for "they're a couple/courting" and not "now's the time to whip out your dick and fap". After all, as you already acknowledge, this is blatantly a kid's movie that's not even really trying to appeal to adults.

And that's exactly why I probably wouldn't let movies like this "babysit my kids". If you want your kids to grow into smart, sophisticated adults, you can't raise them on dumbed down Russian bullshit that probably had zero goals in mind except to feed Russian toddlers brain-numbing stupidity that'll make all the state-glorifying propaganda look interesting (if it isn't already a cleverly designed propaganda piece to begin with) and to siphon the far more valuable North American and European money into their rightfully sanctioned accounts.

Russia hates LGBT people and takes great pride in persecuting them. To think they'd intentionally make "furry fanservice" is preposterous.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

No problem, I definitely don't think the animators were targeting furries with fanservice! I meant it more in the vein of what furries would probably get out of it - and a lot of furries won't. (Like you!) Check out the image alt-text, I had fun with that.

In a larger sense, I was trying to suggest that the use of female characters in this film isn't especially progressive. You haven't seen the other shots with Bianca, but there are several times the camera angle focuses on her butt. This is already an issue in computer games, and game design is where some of the production company's animators came from.

To play devil's advocate to my own argument - by the end of the film Bianca definitely starts acting with more agency. The other two main female charaters - Lyra is a kind and motherly older sister who runs a beauty salon, which is pretty stereotypical. (Heck, in the poster she's holding a rolling pin.) And Mami the rabbit is more a stereotype of romani than of women, and her role is more of the guide/mentor who gives aid, if you consider Grey following the hero's journey from a narrative standpoint.

Anyway, I'm not seeing any political propaganda in this film. Propaganda usually involves identifying some group or idea as dangerous, and at the end of this film, the characters are falling in love and living in peace with each other. Conversely, if you're going to see sinister motives behind low-concept animated kid's films, what are we to think of American ones like Storks and Ice Age: Collision Course? Are they up to the same nefarious goals?

Your rating: None

Missed the alt-text the first read through.

I'm a sucker for cheap Star Fox memes.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (4 votes)

Bluray (with English audio) is available from amazon.de https://www.amazon.de/V%C3%B6llig-von-Wolle-m%C3%A4%C3%A4%C3%A4hrchenhaftes-Kudd...

I'm not a fan of the character designs for this movie, particularly the sheep. And since the sheep were most of the movie that dragged the whole thing down for me. I preferred Alpha & Omega (actually I'm quite fond of that).

I'm with you on wanting to see more of the rabbits and rodents.

Edit to note bluray seems to be region-free despite what it says on the amazon.de page. At least it didn't require me to change the region setting on my bluray player.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

“Completely of the Wool”? Ugh! How would you translate “Völlig von der Wolle” into good English? “All-Wool”? “100% Wool”?

But I do like “kuddelmuddel”. “Kids’ mixup”? They say that linguistic historians love Wolfgang Mozart’s correspondence to his father because Mozart was one of the few 18th-century Germans who could write who didn’t put his private correspondence into “good German”. Mozart’s letters are full of the common slang of the day, and are one of the few sources today of late-18th-century German slang.

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

Actually, "Völlig von der Wolle" is another of these obnoxious puns that German publishers seem to love as secondary titles for animated films these days. The original proverb is "(völlig) von der Rolle sein", literally "to be off the roll" meaning "to be confused / crazy / tired out".

I actually had to look up the origin of that proverb, and it seems to be of rather recent origin (only a few decades old), referring either to cycling (being off the "distance roll" of a pacing motorcycle), or to theater (being out of character).

Replacing "Rolle" by "Wolle" is the obvious sheep reference, but the sentence doesn't make literal sense any more. While "von Wolle" (as in "made from wool") used to be valid German, it's hopelessly outdated; today we would say "aus Wolle", and in both cases not use the article "der".

I leave it to you to find a fitting pun in English that is constructed in a similar way ;-)

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

"Shearing the Wolves"? I'm no good with puns. In fact, is this a pun?

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

If we're going that way, I'd suggest "The Shearing of the Wolf"; referring more specifically to Grey, and also subverting the original by making a male partner in a couple less tame (while also - I'm guessing - a more desirable groom).

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

This title makes me think of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew", although there’s not much similarity between Grey here and Shakespeare’s Katharine.

Fred Patten

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

The Dishonored Wolf did the best review of it humanely possible.

And then YouTube deleted the video.

Well, I'll be...

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