Review: Shaun the Sheep Movie
By Floyd Rock
Aardman Animations is probably best known for their Wallace and Gromit series and their first feature film, Chicken Run, which was a breakthrough success in theaters. Ten years after Wallace and his dog Gromit got their own feature length film another one of Aardman’s beloved characters, Shaun from their popular animated show Shaun the Sheep and a spin off character from the Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave, gets his own feature length film as well. During a seemingly routine day Shaun and his fellow sheep devise a plan to put their owner, the farmer, to sleep so they can relax, invade his house and kitchen, and watch television. Their plan goes well at first and they put him in a nearby trailer as he sleeps. However, the trailer is unexpectedly sent careening down the road out of control towards The Big City when it comes loose from the tree log holding it in place. The farmer’s faithful dog Bitzer gives chase but is unable to stop it from wildly crashing through the city. When the farmer staggers out of the trailer, unaware of how he got into the city, he’s hit on the head and loses his memory. Shaun hides on a bus traveling into the city determined to bring the farmer back home but he’s unaware that the entire flock of sheep has followed him. Shaun and his fellow sheep are immediately brought face-to-face with the dangers of The Big City in the form of Trumper, a devilish animal control employee, when they arrive. Shaun and his fellow sheep must don disguises to try to integrate into city life as they search for their owner in the sprawling urban environment.
Though Shaun the Sheep is based on an animated television series no familiarity with the show is required to understand and enjoy Aardman’s latest feature. The movie opens with a sequence of super 8 style footage introducing its main characters, Shaun, the farmer, the farmer’s dog Bitzer, and the other sheep. In a few moments the movie is able to endear its collection of characters to each other and to its viewers. Aardman’s witty humor is in top form delivering comedic material in multiple ways, with character humor, puns, situational comedy, music cues, movie references, slapstick, and other visual gags. Even with close observation one could miss the barrage of jokes packed into this tightly designed animated comedy. Children’s movie or not Shaun the Sheep is one of the brightest, warmest, and funniest films of the year.
Not only is Shaun the Sheep a wonderfully clever and funny film it also delivers all its comedy and tells its story with no dialogue. Characters may grunt or laugh and perform body and hand gestures but they never speak a word. Shaun the Sheep is 85 minutes of pure visual storytelling and it’s an exceptionally well crafted 85 minutes. Great silent comedic performers like Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd come to mind with the movie’s physical comedy and settings like the animals’ farm, the animal control building which serves as an animal jailhouse, and a hilarious scene in which Bitzer is mistaken for a surgeon in the city’s hospital but the culture clash of the quaint old-fashioned farm animals with the monstrous modernization of The Big City immediately brings to mind the work of French filmmaker Jacques Tati, in particular two scenes from Shaun the Sheep. The first is when the flock of sheep visit a restaurant and attempt to observe and impersonate proper table etiquette with uproariously funny disruptive results for the restaurant and its patrons and the second is when the movie lampoons modern culture, contemporary art, fashion, and trends when the farmer becomes a popular hair stylist because of his natural sheep shearing talents.
Some may call Shaun the Sheep a lesser effort from Aardman, due to its short runtime and small scale narrative, but really this is a group of filmmakers working at the height of their visual storytelling craft and comedic inventiveness and their best feature film since 2005’s Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Aardman Animations continues to be one of the most consistent animation studios working today and they’ve built a name for themselves with their intelligent humor and identifiable animation style. Though made and marketed with children in mind Shaun the Sheep offers material that will surely go over their heads like a reference to Silence of the Lambs. Not only is it smart entertainment but it’s accessible and completely charming as well, making it entertainment suitable for viewers of all ages and backgrounds. If the international popularity of Charles Chaplin is any indication there’s something cross culturally universal about pathos and humor delivered visually, without the need for spoken dialogue, and in that respect Shaun the Sheep is a joyful endearing success and a grand excuse for anyone to take the day off.