Shaun the Sheep Movie is a fun and bubbly animated adventure absolutely bursting with lovable sheep and even lovelier visual storytelling, offering a ubiquitous appeal with its silent and whimsical nature. It’s another classic brought to us by Aardman Animations, the studio behind other stop-animation classics Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit, and several others. Even at this relatively early stage in the year it’s definitely a runner-up, so far, to Pixar’s Inside Out for a shoe-in nomination for Best Animated Feature (we’ve still got another Pixar film to go with The Good Dinosaur, so anything could happen).
Shaun (the sheep) has his origins as a supporting character in the Wallace and Gromit short “A Close Shave”, created by Nick Park, and later saw his role expand in his very own show, Shaun the Sheep. And now the ever so diligent leader of his flock finally stars in his very own feature film. All is well in the world.
Shaun and his flock have had it with the repetitive mundane farm life – they need a little adventure. After all, all work and no play…well, you know. The days are endless and for the most part boring, but Shaun has a devised an ingenious plan for a day off: by jumping over a fence repeatedly they’ll induce drowsiness and subsequently lull Farmer into deep sleep. Once done, they’ll put their snoozing owner into a trailer, plug in some noise-canceling headphones, and off they’ll go enjoying a holiday away from the farm.
As it turns out, they get more adventure than they bargained for when their vacation planning is spoiled by unforeseen events; the trailer containing the slumbering Farmer ends up rolling out of the farm, down a hill, and right into the “Big City”, a place so distant and unlike their own peaceful, placid existence.
Bitzer, the Farmer’s ever faithful best friend and next-in-charge, decides to embark on a quest to retrieve his owner. But Shaun can’t possibly just sit around waiting for Bitzer to get back, so he decides to board a bus into the Big City, unbeknownst to him the rest of the flock has followed suit.
It turns out that Farmer, hospitalized from bumping his head, is recovering from amnesia and has become an accidental celebrity hair stylist, thanks to the sheering techniques lost in his memory. The sheep, however, go from one wacky situation to the next while also evading the grip of animal catcher Trumper, trying to locate their beloved Farmer so they can all go home.
Where some animated features could benefit from expunged dialogue from their soundtrack (I’m thinking of this year’s rambunctious Home), Shaun the Sheep thrives in having no dialogue, allowing the whimsical Shaun and company to really showcase Aardman Animations unmatched talents in both animation and physical comedy.
The hijinks are reminiscent of the great silent era films of Chaplin and Keaton and – going back even further – those of Mack Sennett Keystone (go look him up!). On display is a deep respect for the art of stop-motion animation, which might seem arcane in this world of CG overload and bloat. With few competitors Aardman Studios has fashioned a near-monopoly when it comes to creating charming, family-friend films that audiences of all ages can enjoy.
Shaun the Sheep Movie is an animated delight, one can only be experienced with a big, silly grin stretched from cheek to cheek. It’s accessible to audiences at every level, and its use of playful animation helps demolish language barriers in the process. The tactic of relying on no-dialogue requires a great deal of focus that practically begs viewers to enjoy its visual surprises, but one worth the effort. You can’t help but admire the sheer audacity and irresistible charm of having a largely silent animated feature film in an era of big explosions and excessive dialogue. This film, mercifully, delves in neither.