Review: Shaun the Sheep – Spring Cleaning

Shaun the Sheep - Spring Cleaning

Somewhat unbelievably, it’s 25 years this coming Christmas since Wallace and Gromit were first beamed into our living rooms, in A Grand Day Out. I’ll just let that sink in for a second… 25 years! A quarter of a century! That’ll be another one of those things that make me feel positively ancient then.

That said, it wasn’t until their second adventure, The Wrong Trousers, was broadcast four years later than I became aware of Nick Park’s creations, and I’ve loved them ever since -who doesn’t?

It was the third Wallace and Gromit adventure, A Close Shave (1995), that introduced us to Shaun the Sheep, a character so popular that he was given his own CBBC series in 2007, and has appeared in over 100 episodes since.

Spring Cleaning is the latest collection of Shaun the Sheep episodes to be released on DVD, and it really is fun for all the family – in fact, I think I might even have enjoyed it more than the girls! Each episode features five minutes of farm-based fun, as Shaun and his woolly friends get up to all sorts of antics involving such things as sheepdog trials, pet rabbits, coconuts, skateboarding, home barn improvements and window cleaning.

I must admit I hadn’t seen any of Shaun’s solo adventures prior to receiving this DVD, and I’m not sure the girls had either, but we’ll definitely be looking out for him in the future – especially with a feature-length film due to arrive in cinemas next year!

Shaun the Sheep – Spring Cleaning is available to buy from today. As well as 10 episodes from the TV series, there are extras including behind-the-scenes features, and a tutorial on how to draw Shaun himself. To celebrate the DVD launch, Studio Canal have provided me with some Shaun activity sheets, which will be ideal for keeping the kids amused over the Easter holidays. Click on the links below to download them

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Review: Barbie The Pearl Princess

DVD cover for Barbie The Pearl PrincessIt’s probably no great surprise that I’m not a huge fan of the Barbie movie franchise. However, the girls love them, so when we got the chance to review the new Barbie movie, Barbie The Pearl Princess, there was no way I could turn it down.

Barbie appears in this movie as Lumina, a mermaid with special powers that allow her to control pearls, making them dance and glow amongst other things. But Lumina has spent all her life hidden away from the world, living with her aunt on the outer edges of the mermaid kingdom. She dreams of one day visiting the royal palace, and when an opportunity comes up to do just that, Lumina and her seahorse friend Kuda set off on an adventure that brings Lumina more than she bargained for.

The animation in this movie was great, and a real step up from some of the previous Barbie movies I’ve seen. The music was pretty good too, particularly Mermaid Party which managed to sound like a load of recent chart hits without sounding like a rip-off of any of them. The story, though, left me a bit cold – there was no real sense of surprise or danger, and you can probably work out how things end up from the title alone.

That said, I’m not really the target audience, and the girls enjoyed it well enough. Heather gave it a solid 3 out of 5 (although I’m not sure she really understood what I was asking) and Megan has watched it several times, so clearly she enjoyed it too. Also, she got really excited about the posters and trailers we saw in the cinema at the weekend (as well as it’s DVD release, the movie has a limited run at Vue cinemas) which proves how much she liked it. What do I know?

Barbie The Pearl Princess is released on DVD on February 17th. It’s also on at Vue cinemas on February 15th/16th

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Sponsored Post: Walkers Hoops and Crosses

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You know the kids are watching too much Disney/Nick Jr when they start coming out with Americanisms. “Daddy”, Heather asked last week, “what’s tic-tac-toe?”. I explained that it was another name for noughts and crosses, without considering that this was likely to lead to the (obvious) question of what noughts and crosses is. And, inevitably, we were in the middle of something else and it wasn’t a good time to explain more fully.

By astonishing coincidence, we received a package from Walkers a few days later, allowing us to try their new snack, Hoops and Crosses. They’re baked, rather than fried, and contain 56% wholegrain which I know is good, but I’m not entirely sure why it’s better than other types of grain. That said, our kids already eat plenty of wholegrain, but it doesn’t harm to add a little extra. What’s more, according to Walkers 27% of UK kids don’t have ANY wholegrain in their diets, so hiding them in tasty snacks doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

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Hoops and Crosses come in three flavours: beef, prawn cocktail and salt & vinegar. We received a packet of beef flavour to try, which we did as a family.

Megan wasn’t keen at all, but Heather enjoyed hers, and was more than happy to deal with Megan’s leftovers. Gem and I liked ours too, with both of us being reminded very much of Monster Munch, another Walkers snack.

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Much to Gem’s displeasure, I used some of the snacks to show Heather how noughts and crosses is played, before they all got gobbled up. I’m not sure I got my message across fully, right enough – after they were all gone I asked Heather if she’d enjoyed her Hoops and Crosses.

“Yes Daddy, and now they’re playing tic-tac-toe in my tummy!”

Sigh…

This is a sponsored post. I was provided with a bundle from Walkers for review purposes. All words and opinions are my own, and links have been included out of courtesy.

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Review: LEGO City Undercover

Like many, I spent a fair amount of time playing video games in my youth, mainly on my trusty ZX Spectrum (showing my age now) before moving on to the Megadrive and Playstation (no numbers on my Playstation!). As I got older, though, other things began to fill my time, and gaming moved on and left me behind. Even the Nintendo Wii we bought a few years ago has been used for little other than weighing in on Wii Fit.

That said, I don’t think I’ve ever lost my enthusiasm for gaming, and so I was thrilled when Nintendo got in touch and asked me to review LEGO City Undercover, a title exclusive to their latest console, the Wii U.

LEGO City Undercover

LEGO City Undercover is an open-world adventure, which sees you take the role of Chase McCain, a maverick cop returning to LEGO City to clean up a crime wave being orchestrated by Rex Fury, a criminal who Chase put behind bars several years ago. Rex recently escaped from prison, and not trusting the local police to put him to justice, the mayor has brought Chase back to do the job. Throw in a love interest (Natalya, a paramedic who is part of a witness protection programme after Chase inadvertently identified her as a witness in the original Rex case) and the stage is set for some adventure.

If the plot sounds cheesy and cliche-ridden, well, I suspect it’s supposed to be, because that’s a large part of the fun. Chase himself is part Bruce Willis and part Clint Eastwood, and the game is full of Hollywood references, most of which will sail far over the head of a large number of (younger) players. My favourite (so far) is the mission in Albatross Prison which is chockful of references to the Shawshank Redemption.

The game itself involves running, driving, swimming and climbing around LEGO City, following clues and instructions from Police HQ, with the ultimate goal of capturing Rex Fury. Along the way there are various puzzles to solve and objects to find, as well as LEGO structures to build, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing all of those.

One of the best things about the game is the use of the Wii U Gamepad. A traditional controller combined with a 6 inch touchscreen, the Gamepad is the Wii U’s big selling point, and it’s been very well incorporated into LEGO City Undercover. As well as being used to control Chase’s on-screen movements, it’s a real world representation of Chase’s communicator. This piece of in-game kit combines mapping, video calling and a scanner which can be used to find hidden objects and clues, and using it in the real-world really brings the game to life, making it feel like you really ARE Chase McCain.

I obviously loved the game, but what did the kids think? Heather’s never really “got” video games in the past (her idea of playing Mario Kart was to reverse around the track and crash into things, because it made me laugh, rather than actually racing) so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But she loved watching while I was playing, and was keen to have a shot of her own.

Initially she preferred crashing and driving into the river to following the path the game wanted her to, because it was funny (sound familiar?) but after I got her to the police station and she got to explore and solve some puzzles for herself she really enjoyed herself. I did have to sit with her while she was playing, because although there is plenty of on-screen help and instruction, Heather can’t read yet and needed someone to help her along. Not a real problem, and it meant it was something we could enjoy together.

So there you go, an excellent game with something for all the family. My only complaint would be the long time to load each level, although I gather that’s a Wii U issue, rather than one specific to this game. It did mean, though, that we got to hear the load music (think 70s cop show theme, heavy on the wah-wah guitars) which both Heather and Megan had fun singing and dancing to.

Speaking of Megan, at 2 she’s a bit young for a game as complex as LEGO City Undercover, but as this picture shows she did have fun playing with Nintendoland!

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Nintendo provided me with a Wii U console and a copy of LEGO CIty Undercover for the purposes of this review. All words and opinions are my own, and links have been included out of courtesy.

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Gude Ale: Williams Bros 80/-, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, Thwaite’s Tavern Porter

I might have mentioned before that I’m finding my beer drinking tastes turning darker and darker. Maybe it’s the cold weather – lighter, hoppier beers seem more suited to summer somehow – or maybe it’s because it’s just that I’ve historically not drunk many dark beers, so they seem all shiny and new to me.

It might even just be that there are more of them available – I read this article a while back, about how every small brewery worth its salt is clamouring to get into a growing market for stouts and porters, which means I’m not alone in my newly developed taste for the black(er) stuff.

Whatever it is, last weekend I found myself a trio of beers darker than I would have drunk a year or so ago.

Williams Bros 80/-
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I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of Williams Bros, so I expected this one to hit the spot. And it did, with treacle toffee very much the dominant flavour. That said, it wasn’t too sweet, and actually could have been a bit sweeter to be honest. A good beer, although not my favourite in the Williams Bros range.

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout
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It’s taken me a while to get round to trying this which is surprising given how highly my brother-in-law has spoken of it. I’m glad to say it lived up to the hype, with big chocolate/coffee flavours and a lovely creamy feel to it. I think Bateman’s Mocha is probably still my top coffee/chocolate beer to date, but this comes a close second.

Thwaite’s Tavern Porter
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The blurb on the label about Elizabethan taverns should, perhaps, have made me suspicious – the porter style of beer isn’t documented until the 18th century, long after Good Queen Bess’s time – but I didn’t think about that until later. Historical inaccuracies aside, the beer wasn’t that exciting. Not unpleasant, but nothing memorable either, and not one I’d rush to drink again.

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