From Russia With Love
Sheep and Wolves is one of those films that may have managed to fly under your radar given that it never got a theatrical run here in the USA. It did, however, get a DVD (and corresponding Redbox) release as well as made the grade on streaming services like Hulu so encountering it in the wild is by no means impossible.
The film began its life as Волки и овцы: бе-е-е-зумное превращение in 2016 in the land of its creation (Russia) and is based upon the Brothers Grimm fairy tale The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids.
The film’s creation is rather interesting, having taken 5-years and a budget of $3.6-million to complete. It took a profit during its Russian theatrical run, grossing $4.1-million. What’s of particular note is that the original language track is in Russian, with a Russian cast, American screenwriter Neil Landau signed on board to assist in writing the script. What isn’t as clear, however, is whether or not he was involved in the English dub that made it here or the original draft despite the language barrier or what have you. What can be said with certainty is that this is one of few CG animated feature films that actually manage to not only survive the process of being dubbed into English but still make perfect sense too.
The story tells of a wolf pack led by wise Magra (Jim Cummings) who leads his wolves to a new home in a ravine across a meadow from the village of a peaceful flock of sheep. Upon settling into their new digs, Magra announces his retirement, which entails a ritualistic battle of successor candidates. The two contenders for the position are the bloodthirsty Ragear (Rich Orlow), who is set up pretty early on as the villain on account of his desire to abolish all of the pack’s codes and the much hipper Grey (Tom Felton), who’s equal parts wise guy and immaturity.
In effort to grow up fast to both handle pack business and try to impress his she-wolf Bianca (Ruby Rose), Grey visits a carnival rabbit fortune teller who, with a potion, transforms him into a ram. And thus is the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” element fulfilled. Much to Grey’s surprise, the neighboring sheep population welcomes him into their ranks with open arms – forcing him to decide where he truly belongs.
The plot isn’t revolutionary but it does a nice job bringing a relatively simplistic fairy-tale element into an 85-minute story. The themes often border on territory forged by the Lion King and mix them up with a bit of Alpha & Omega (the first one, when the franchise was still decent) for good measure. Nothing here is particularly ground breaking or memorable but the action is decent, the visuals charming and, surprisingly, many of the jokes will land with the kids especially.
Perhaps its greatest accomplishment, though, is doing successfully what has been attempted in the CG feature film arena countless times throughout the years to almost certain disaster – the process of taking a foreign film and dubbing an English vocal track atop the animation. Directors are usually so concerned with doing their best to try and match mouth flaps to something passable in the dialog department that rarely does the story or the inflection of the lines ever come close to making any sense. Somehow Sheep and Wolves manages to defy the odds. This is almost a big enough win by itself to warrant the price of admission.
On a final note the film wasted no time becoming a franchise in Russia as the sequel (Sheep and Wolves: Pig Deal) hit theaters in January of 2019. It’s pretty unlikely the followup effort will find its way here but then again if this film has taught us anything, it’s never say never.