One of the only film studios that operates today that I felt has never made a bad film is Aardman. Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit are classics in stop motion and their other films, Flushed Away; Arthur Christmas and The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists, are all a lot of fun. But in terms of profitability, nothing has been bigger for Aardman than Shaun the Sheep. Spinning off from Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave, Shaun the Sheep started out as a TV show on CBBC, eventually getting a few video games, a spin-off series (Timmy Time on Cbeebies) and an artistic movement with statues of Shaun the Sheep placed across London and Bristol. Inevitably a film adaptation would be made, but there was a risk that the film would lose the charm that made the Shaun the Sheep TV series so good. Thankfully, that is not the case, Shaun the Sheep Movie (really needs a ‘the’ in there) continues Aardman’s streak of incredibly entertaining films.
The film focuses on a flock of sheep, led by Shaun who, after getting tired with the same farm routine day in and day out, resolve to have a day off by locking the farmer in a caravan and spending the day relaxing. However, the caravan ends up rolling down to the nearby city, quickly followed by the farmers dog Bitzer. After they don’t return, and the sheep not being able to get to their food, Shaun resolves to find the farmer in the city, with the rest of the flock tagging along. Complicating matters is the fact that the farmer is suffering from memory loss due to a head injury sustained in the caravan, with him thinking that he’s a hairdresser, along with an animal control officer wanting to capture the flock. One thing that I’m incredibly thankful of is that the film continues the main stylistic choice of the series, that being that there is no spoken dialogue. The entire plot and all the character beats in the film are laid out almost entirely through body language. Sure there are a few noises the characters make, baaing from the sheep, barks from Bitzer and some grunts for the humans (provided by Justin Fletcher as Shaun, John Sparkes as Bitzer and the Farmer, Omid Djalili as the Animal Control officer Trumper and a cameo from Nick Park), but no actual dialogue is spoken. Aardman have made a silent comedy for modern day child audiences, who are used to fast-paced, dialogue heavy films, and that in and of itself is commendable but it goes beyond just being a gimmick. Directors/writers Richard Starzak and Mark Burton provide a lot of character details for everyone even without dialogue, notable ones being for Shaun, portrayed as a bit of a rebel who cares for the rest of the flock and is the most street smart of the group; Bitzer, who is a bit of a stick-in-the-mud who has a lot of respect for the Farmer and Trumper, who considers himself to be a highly efficient badass who wants recognition for what he does. The best character stuff in the film though goes to the Farmer. At the start of the film, we see the Farmer with younger versions of Shaun and Bitzer (who are probably the cutest things to be in a film in a long time), caring deeply for them and loving his work, when it gets to the present day, the Farmer has become a stricter, with a rigidly enforced schedule and who constantly hits Bitzer in the face with his door. As the film goes on, even after the memory loss, the Farmer has brief traces of love for his work and it’s clear that he misses being the person he was in the past. This is all done with no dialogue and comes across incredibly well in a dramatic sense.
That’s not to say the film lacks its humourous moments, this is a really funny film. It’s not really laugh-out-loud funny, and some of the jokes definitely aim for a younger audience, in particular the flatulence jokes, but there is a great deal of humour derived from the characters and how they interact with the city, especially with the sheep, that made me chuckle. This being Aardman, the animation itself plays a role in the humour. Whilst the main animation goes a bit broader and a bit slower for its humour, the stop motion style of Aardman is inherently funny due to the character design and the movements for each character. There’s also a lot of great details in the background that will reward repeat viewings. The overall background details for the city are a joy to look at, even if it is pretty blatantly London, and there are a lot of smaller details that Aardman fans will spend hours looking for. In this viewing, I was able to see a picture of Feathers McGraw from Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers in the background of a scene set at the animal control offices and I’m pretty sure I saw an ‘all your base are belong to us’ joke. This also brings in the more adult humour that will go over the heads of the younger audience. but not in a sexual innuendo way, it’s more referencing films that the younger audience won’t be familiar with (such as The Silence of the Lambs) and technological issues (such as internet connection issues and how photoshop is used to alter photographs). It’s all a lot of fun to watch.
Overall, Shaun the Sheep Movie is a lot of fun. Whilst it’s not Aardman’s best work, it is admirable to see an animation studio committed to making a silent movie in the modern age of animation, with them even getting a good bit of emotion from it. Not all the jokes in the film work but it’s still a lot of fun to watch and shows why Aardman is the best of the best for stop motion animation. Plus, it what other film released this year will you hear a song sung by Rizzle Kicks in collaboration with Vic Reeves.
My Rating: 4.5/5