Directors – Oskar Lehemaa, Mikk Mägi – 2019 – Estonia – Cert. 15 – 88m
A farmer and his grandchildren must recapture his unmilked cow before its udders burst into lactopalypse – stop-frame epic is out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 2nd and currently screening in previews
Estonia’s answer to Britain’s Shaun The Sheep, this feature spin-off from long-running, popular, puppet animation TV comedy series Vanamehe Multikas (Old Man Cartoon) shows Estonian sensibilities to be very different from those of the British. This is aimed at not as you might expect children but rather the young adult market – it’s stuffed full of sexual innuendo and toilet or other bodily function humour. Since I can imagine it being an uproarious experience with the right audience, it’s a shame to have first seen this online rather than in a packed movie theatre owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bookended by black and white newsreel of Old Milker’s disastrous failure to stop a cow’s unmilked udders exploding into a lactopolypse complete with milk mushroom cloud, the plot has three kids sent to stay with their grandpa on his farm for the summer. Their family car back seat introduction shows us teenage boy Priidik and girl Aino constantly on their mobile phones while their pre-teen boy sibling Mart has built an incredible, fully functioning, miniature robot cow for grandpa. This irritates Aino, so she throws it out the window onto a cowpat. Very much an indication of the tone of what is to follow.
To prevent an udder build-up and resultant explosion of milk, grandpa milks his cow daily, cruelly keeping it tied up in the barn. The kids, whose phones have been fed to the pig, release the cow in grandpa’s absence, leaving a disgruntled crowd of locals unable to collect their daily milk. Grandpa and two kids set out to find the escaped cow, while Old Milker enlists three out of work, chainsaw wielding woodcutters to help him seek and destroy the cow before its udder blows up.
En route they encounter a hippy music festival then become trapped inside the stomach of a bear with a bunch of animals and heavy metal guitarist / singer (Jacob Cream / Jaagup Kreem from the real life band The Terminaator). Meanwhile, back at the farm, Mart invents initially a mechanical cow milking machine which milks a male customer to satisfy local demand and later, for the finale, a giant mecha-cow that consumes Old Milker turning him into an adversary worthy of a Godzilla movie.
The rough and ready stop frame puppetry perfectly fits the crude comedic tone. There is no attempt at lip-synch, as character voices are added by means of straightforward dubbing. Making numerous series episodes of similar material has shown the makers what works, and these techniques prove highly effective. The perverse humour also includes a bizarre sex joke about an old tree spirit, which riffs on a recurring tree spirit character and running gag in the original TV series.
It’s tempting to write off the whole endeavour as immature trash. And yet, somehow, it’s hard not to like a film where tech-obsessed kids are introduced to the joys of countryside living and a cow is liberated from cruel farming techniques to find freedom and happiness. The juvenile sensibility recalls nothing so much as the early Peter Jackson of Bad Taste (1987), Meet The Feebles (1989) and Braindead (1992). Like those films, this possesses considerable inventiveness and energy, however you can’t help feeling that the directors are capable of something much more impressive if only they could come up with a less crude, more complex script.
Shaun The Sheep it isn’t.
The Old Man Movie Lactopalypse! is out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 2nd and currently screening in previews.
Fantasia Film Festival
Annecy Animation Festival special online edition:
Monday, June 15th to Tuesday, June 30th.