Shaun the Sheep first appeared in the Oscar-winning stop-motion short, “A Close Shave.” After stealing the show from Wallace and Gromit, Shaun went on to get his own spinoff television series. There’s no doubt that Shaun is a winning supporting character and has proven himself capable of carrying a seven-minute episode. Can he really carry a feature length film, though? With the inventive minds at Aardman Animations herding him in the right direction, yes he can.
Living a laidback, yet occasionally chaotic, life on a farm, Shaun and his fellow sheep grow board of their normal routine. They wish to take the day off and hatch a breakout reminiscent of “Chicken Run.” After distracting the farmer and his faithful dog, Bitzer, for a little while, their holiday takes a turn for the worse and they all wind up in the big city. This leads to several fun misadventures involving memory loss and a ruthless animal containment officer bent on skinning the sheep.
Aardman can certainly write brilliant dialog, as demonstrated in movies like “Arthur Christmas.” The highlight of any Aardman production, however, is the visual humor. These filmmakers pack jokes into almost every shot of their movies, some of which are blatant and others you’ll have to look closely to catch. Even if every joke doesn’t leave you laughing out loud hysterically, each one will put an irrespirable smile on your face. “Shaun the Sheep Movie” is no exception, but the film takes the studio’s visual humor to another level.
Outside of some occasional gibberish and animal noises, this film is entirely dialog free. The feature length silent picture has essentially been dead since the birth of talkies, excluding the Best Picture winning “The Artist” in 2011 and Mel Brooks’ “Silent Movie” in 1976. “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” much like the first thirty minutes of “WALL-E,” exemplifies that animation is truly the ideal medium for silent movies. Few living performers could ever match the same levels of energy, timing, or creativity as Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. In the realm of animation, though, you can do just about anything and “Shaun the Sheep Movie” takes full advantage of the art form.
The film explores many of the same themes as other Aardman features, such as animal cruelty and a person’s affection for their pets. The narrative never tastes like stale, old cheese, however. Every time “Shaun the Sheep Movie” starts to overstay its welcome, the filmmakers throw in new clever twist, character, or gag that makes you wish it were even longer. It might not be the most epic or complex animated film you’ll see this year, but it does offer a jolly good time through its simple charms and big heart.
Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years. Follow him on Twitter @Nspake or visit his blog: Nickpicksflicks.com