Editor’s Notes: Shaun The Sheep opens in wide theatrical release August 7th.
Big screen expansions of popular TV shows have always been a troubling conundrum. The concern of whether the appeal of characters regularly experienced in 30-minute (or less, in this case) doses can maintain for a feature-length run time plagues any attempted adaptation. The results of these undertakings vary vastly in quality. For every Borat, Hollywood treats us to an Entourage, whilst each Mission: Impossible is heralded by The Avengers (the painful 1998 spy caper, rather than Joss Whedon’s game-changing blockbuster). Luckily, Aardman Studios’ latest animated delight, based on their enduring ovine creation, is a resounding success: staying true to its small-screen origins whilst still providing a captivating spectacle for kids of all ages.
As the main characters are animals, and the human characters articulate exclusively in unintelligible grunts, Shaun the Sheep is in essence a silent comedy.
Shaun the Sheep is a long-running BBC production, focusing on the lovable creature and his flock, incompetently managed by a near-blind farmer and his loyal sheepdog Baxter. This hilarious stop-motion adventure, written and directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, follows Shaun and his flock into “The Big City” to rescue their farmer, who was forced by Shaun’s mischief to leave the farm. Once they arrive, Shaun is in immediate danger from the overzealous animal containment officer Trumper. He also meets a kind-hearted stray dog named Slip, with whom he forms a somewhat disturbing interspecies romance.
As the main characters are animals, and the human characters articulate exclusively in unintelligible grunts, Shaun the Sheep is in essence a silent comedy. Burton and Starzak use this supposed limitation to their full advantage, executing inspired Keaton-esque sight gags at breakneck pace. The level of pure invention and glee present in the lean 84-minute run time is simply a joy to behold. The voice cast admittedly have little to do, but Justin Fletcher works wonders as Shaun, lending his character a naïve innocence that perfectly encapsulates the film’s easy-going charm.
Aardman remain the masters of stop-motion animation, and whilst Shaun the Sheep never reaches the heights of their timeless Wallace and Gromit shorts, it’s still a ridiculously entertaining comedy with more than enough visual invention and comedic drollery to spare.
As to be expected from a movie about inarticulate sheep, the emotional stakes are virtually non-existent. There are few life lesson to be gained, or great paradigm shifts, but these almost feel like the perverse point: why would these creatures develop as people; they’re not people? Even the humans barely meet that description. In most movies, this would be a serious flaw, but here it serves to slyly comment on the absurdity of other, similarly animal-centric family films. Although Burton and Starzak lose the strength of their convictions in a unnecessary third-act action scene which finally gives way to convention, this is a refreshingly free-spirited family movie; largely unwilling to commit to formula.
Aardman remain the masters of stop-motion animation, and whilst Shaun the Sheep never reaches the heights of their timeless Wallace and Gromit shorts, it’s still a ridiculously entertaining comedy with more than enough visual invention and comedic drollery to spare. One of the year’s most consistently surprising animated efforts, the stop-motion wizardry is both technically miraculous and utterly charming. It will inevitably be eclipsed by Pixar’s Inside Out (rightly) and Minions (very, very wrongly) in years to come, but that doesn’t refute its own, unmistakably British, brilliance.
Shaun the Sheep is a resounding success that stays true to its small-screen origins whilst still providing a captivating spectacle for kids of all ages.