Shaun the Sheep Movie is a stop-motion animated feature produced by the brilliant Bristol-based animation studio, Aardman Animations (famous for feature films Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Chicken Run and Arthur Christmas), and is adapted by co writer/directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton from the popular 2007 Shaun the Sheep television series.
Many will remember first being introduced to Shaun in Nick Park’s amazing 1995 Academy Award-winning short film Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave. Park has been working with Aardman for decades, notably directing Chicken Run and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the latter of which also won an Oscar, and creating the spin-off aforementioned series that influenced this hilarious, inventive, brilliantly animated, and quintessentially British family entertainment. With Paddington warming hearts over the Christmas break, it pays to go British for the kiddies.
The film opens with a superb montage, as we are introduced to daily life on Mossy Bottom Farm, and the impersonal routine that has disintegrated the relationship between the Farmer, his dutiful dog Blitzer and Shaun’s flock of sheep. Part of Shaun’s daily regime is the styling of his wooly hair, but when the farmer catches him for a timely trim, that is the last straw. Shaun decides to shake-up the routine, and hatches a plot to incapacitate the farmer and Blitzer so that they can all have a day off. But, when Shaun’s mischief inadvertently backfires and the farmer ends up making a crash landing into the city in a runaway caravan – suffering head injuries and amnesia as a result – the flock hatch an epic and daring plan to rescue him. Shaun leads the adventure, which results in them crossing paths with an obsessive agent of the city’s Animal Control.
Shaun the Sheep Movie is essentially a silent film – the dialogue is mostly unintelligible gibberish – so the narrative is driven by the mechanics of the world, the action and the character’s expressions, which are extraordinary. I haven’t seen all of Aardman’s films, though I grew up with the Wallace and Gromit shorts, but from my experience this is one of their biggest in terms of scope. The details of the city are absolutely incredible and there are so many jokes and pop-culture references it is dizzying to keep track of them all. The immense amount of work that has gone into this film – the construction of the sets and contraptions, the cute ever-changing emotions – is to be applauded and is a refreshing interloper in the world of digital animation that dominates the market.
I had a smile on my face throughout this, and the kids in the session I attended were going through the entire spectrum of the emotions. They laughed hysterically, often, asked their parents inquisitively for clarification on the more complex plot developments, and were frightened by the film’s very stressful finale. It was rewarding to view this film with the target audience and gauge their reactions. Me: I just laughed at everything.
Though a tad long at 85 minus, the plot becomes a bit long-winded when the farmer becomes an overnight celebrity hair stylist – influenced by his lone memory of shearing Shaun – this is sharp writing. There is very little wasted time here, and considering the time and effort that goes into its production, this film is a feat. In addition to the animation and effects, the editing by Sim Evan-Jones was standout work.
There are rewards, for both the youngsters and adults seeking a reprieve, in almost every frame. The adult references (to The Silence of the Lambs and The Shawshank Redemption during Shaun and Blitzer’s stint in prison, for example) are coupled with kid-friendly slapstick chaos. There are fart and belch jokes, but they are tasteful. This is thoughtful filmmaking.
Aardman are very clever and always have their heart in the right place. This delightful comedy will surely be amongst the very best family films released in cinemas this year.
By Andrew Buckle
Director (s): Richard Starzak and Mark Burton
Writer(s): Richard Starzak and Mark Burton
Starring: Justin Fletcher, John Sparks
Runtime: 85 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: March 26, 2015