A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sheep & Wolves is an English-dubbed version of a Russian animated comedy-adventure. It centers on a wolf who's transformed into a ram shortly before his fight to become leader of the pack, depicting the idea of a "wolf in sheep's clothing" in a tween-friendly way. It's somewhat edgier than many kids' films, with a fair bit of insult language ("stupid," "shut up," "pathetic," "dumb," etc.) and innuendo (lots of kissing, plus flirting and even catcalls while a group of she-wolves does a dance). Violence includes a couple of deaths -- wolves fall and are pushed off cliffs -- and near deaths/injuries. Although some of the movie's messages are positive -- it promotes teamwork, empathy, and friendship -- there's also some iffy stereotyping and gender representation; for example, the female animals, particularly the wolves, are shown with exaggeratedly feminine wigs and accessories.
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What's the story?
In SHEEP & WOLVES, a pack led by wise old alpha wolf Magra (voiced by Jim Cummings) sets up their new home in a ravine across a meadow from the minimally guarded village of a peaceful flock of sheep. Magra refuses to let his wolves hunt their new neighbors for sport, claiming they only hunt when necessary, "because every life is sacred." When Magra announces his retirement, he calls for the younger wolves to challenge each other to lead the pack. The two contenders are bloodthirsty Ragear (Rich Orlow), who's vicious and would like to do away with the pack's ancestral laws, and Grey (Tom Felton), who's caring, fun-loving, and charismatic -- but also immature. Grey's love interest, Bianca (Ruby Rose), breaks up with him for being too childish, sending him sulking into a nearby animal carnival. There, a rabbit fortune-teller offers Grey a "transmutation potion" that, instead of changing Grey into a more mature, marriageable wolf, transforms him into a ram. Grey-as-a-ram is welcomed into the flock, where he must figure out how to turn back into a wolf. But in the meantime, he enjoys getting to know the prey animals on their own terms. When news travels that Ragear is on the brink of ruling the wolf pack, Grey must decide where his loyalties lie -- and how to help both his old and new communities.
Is it any good?
This twist on the "wolf in sheep's clothing" saying is sure to amuse younger kids with its fish-out-of-water setup, but it's ultimately an uneven, scattered take on a predictable formula. There's nothing remotely original about a story focused on an immature young man who recognizes the need to grow up out of love for the right young woman and the need to defend his people/community. Felton's voice acting is slightly too posh-sounding to match Grey's devil-may-care attitude, but he does get the emotional cues right as Grey goes through the spectrum of feelings in his new body. Renowned voice actor Orlow's Ragear can sound every bit the bloodthirsty villain he is, and Rose is well cast as the patient, confident Bianca, who's waiting for Grey to step up and be the alpha male she knows he can be.
Sheep & Wolves relies on some very Lion King-like themes, but they don't add up to anything particularly memorable here. Grey, after all, does more to teach the sheep than the sheep seem to teach him (until the very end). He helps Moz (Peter Linz) express his true feelings to Lyra (China Anne McClain); mentors Lyra's little brother, Shaya (Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld); and even calls out the flock leader for his superstitious beliefs (in a particularly cruel way, but it does wake the flock up to their shortcomings). Kids will laugh (although sensitive ones will also be understandably frightened of Ragear's viciousness), and this movie is still better than several of the Alpha & Omega sequels, but don't expect your next family favorite in this "can't we all be friends" adventure.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of talking-animal movies. How does Sheep & Wolves compare to some of your favorites?
Does the movie rely on clichés and stereotypes for jokes? Why is that an issue? Is the portrayal of the female wolves accurate? Appropriate?
What do you think Grey's story is trying to teach viewers about empathy and friendship? Even though it's unlikely to happen in the wild, what can humans learn from the story?
- In theaters: March 9, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: April 17, 2018
- Cast: Tom Felton, Ruby Rose, Jim Cummings
- Directors: Andrey Galat, Maxim Volkov
- Studio: Vertical Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Wild Animals
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some action and rude language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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