A plan to take a trip from the farm to the big city, by Shaun and his fellow sheep, goes awry when, through an accident involving a runaway caravan, their farmer suffers amnesia and in his confusion becomes a hairdresser of note in a swanky salon. And so, with an animal catcher on their tail, Shaun the other sheep embark on an escape and rescue mission to put everything back in its correct order.
When it comes to paths a franchise goes through before becoming a feature film, Shaun the Sheep took a pretty singular route. His movie is a spin-off from his popular children’s TV show, which itself was a spin-off of the third instalment of the Wallace and Gromit animated shorts, A Close Shave.
Aardman animation, the studios that birthed this sheepish hero, is one of the world’s leading purveyors of stop motion animation and is much beloved in the UK, first for their Morph and Creature Comforts animated shorts, then later with the excellent Wallace and Gromit series and the feature film, Chicken Run. Unfortunately, over the last decade or so, their cinematic releases have been so-so at best, with an unwise foray into CG animation (Flushed Away) and most recently with the hit and miss, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (AKA The Pirates! A Band of Misfits).
This is probably why they have been concentrating on their better know quantity of late, building back a solid reputation with the Shaun the Sheep TV show and then capitalising with a equivalently scaled feature; an outing requiring far less budget than they have dealt with on previous features.
This back step might have spoke for a general reversal of integrity and quality by Aardman, especially when their competition from The States seems to be getting ever more slick, stylish and seamless with such films as Paranorman, Frankenweenie and The Boxtrolls, if not for the fact that this Shaun the Sheep Movie is utterly charming.
Sure, the relatively small budget shows, with limited and simple ‘sets’ and old fashioned, see-the-animators-fingerprints-in-the-characters mode of claymation, but other than the fact that many animation fans (this one included) find those fingerprints to be something of a sign of animator’s passion/craft, that they have achieved so much in the way of story, entertainment and heart with so little is rather astounding, especially in a film that is primarily aimed at the very young.
That being said, if Japan’s Studio Ghibli, more specifically the film My Neighbour Totoro, has taught us anything it is that, treated with enough respect, a well crafted, deafly written and executed film can entertain and move people of all kinds and ages even when originally made for small children, and Shaun the Sheep certainly does that.
There is humour in there that grown-ups will find more amusing than youngsters, but it’s with more of a sense of absurdity than the “hey grown-ups, here’s one for you, wink-wink” style more often used by such as the Shrek franchise, but that beside it’s simply one of those none-ironical, none-edgy yet still savvy films that can be watched and enjoyed by the whole family…
And all this with no dialogue… Yup, no actual dialogue at all.
More frequently used in children’s entertainment to ensure universal appeal and understanding, this no dialogue approach can sometimes lead to the finished product being very boring to all but toddlers. Shaun the Sheep, however, uses the format in an infinitely smarter way, using their remarkably simple character designs to emote uncannily well, elevating sight-gags to the heights of something like Mr. Bean (before those ghastly feature films, obviously) or Buster Keaton’s The General.
It won’t blow you away with the visual spectacle of How to Train Your Dragon and it’s not as inventively original as The Lego Movie, but it does have a level of universal appeal that means it can be enjoyed by all the family, no matter what corner of the Earth that family might live on, and with that it is effortlessly smart, charming and full of heart.