It’s hard to imagine a more joyous 2015 film than Shaun the Sheep Movie, a brimming and jubilant yarn directed by Richard Starzak and Mark Burton. The stop-motion animated comedy is based on Nick Park’s Shaun the Sheep television series, which is itself based on a character from the animated short A Close Shave.
Fans of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run will certainly find a lot to love about Shaun the Sheep Movie, of course, but even those unfamiliar with those tales will experience a bounty of simple riches. This is a tale told well and told with ease. There is no dialogue (take note, Minions) and the sense of quirkiness governing this limitless little world is almost impossible to contain.
Shaun is a sheep living with his flock at the Mossy Bottom Farm. He goes through the routine on a daily basis, with the Blitzer the dog and the farmer also wearily going through the motions. One day, Shaun is struck with an idea: he wants a day off. This leads to an elaborate scheme, which leads to near-disaster as the farmer receives a hit to the head and is hospitalized in the big city.
Blitzer heads off to find his owner, with Shaun not too far behind. And naturally, the rest of the flock comes to. This catches the attention of the zealous Trumper, an animal control officer. The sheep avoid the bad guy while trying to locate their owner, but that’s just half the battle. The farmer has forgotten who he is, which leads to an adventure all its own.
The stop-motion animation is absolutely terrific. The good people at Aardman Animations have crafted a deep yet straightforward world, venturing from the idyllic country life to the labyrinth and grime of the big city. Characters look odd and hysterical, lending to certain physical quirks that provide windows to internal wishes and personality types.
The farmer is granted a pair of thick, nearly opaque glasses. He’s balding, although at one point he had quite a shock of hair. He seems kind of dumb, yet there’s no questioning his affection for the animals on his farm. And he can be careless, which is likely in large part the fault of having to awaken at ungodly hours.
Blitzer is his faithful companion and Shaun the Sheep Movie suggests he’s more coworker than dog. He has a working class aesthetic, down to the knitted cap, and he can’t quite figure out a way to wake up in the morning without banging his head on the doghouse. He’s also frequently caught between the door and the wall when the farmer heads out, which accounts for the treachery of daily routine.
And then there’s Shaun himself, a sheep shorn of his dignity yet not without his moral inklings. He just wants to know what it’s like to put his feet up. His buddies matter and the relationships within the flock are important. When he makes a mistake, he sets out to make up for it. He’s clever and apparently really, really bloody good at creating chalk drawings.
These characters are illuminated to an incredible degree, yet none of them ever says a word. They communicate in grunts and movements, some subtle and some broader than a barn door. This lends to Shaun the Sheep Movie’s beating comedic heart, which lands some of the most hysterical slapstick material in recent memory.
There’s an art to the movement of this picture, whether it’s the sheep in people’s clothing lurching through the streets or the closing sequence involving the trailer and the diabolical heavy. Starzak and Burton always go the extra mile, jam-packing each scene with a veritable flock of madness and colour. Looking away for even a split second will doubtlessly result in missing a gag or two.
Shaun the Sheep Movie is light fare done right. There are many films that purport to allow the viewer to check out and enjoy the fun of a short blast through nonsense. This picture actually delivers, passing through like an homage to the eccentricity and character of childhood fun without forfeiting creativity or intellect. It’s a jolly treat and a brilliant delight. Imagine that.