‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ Review: A Shear Delight
I have always been rather fond of the expression “[Blank] has done it again!” It’s not as if doing something more than once is, in itself, a cause for celebration, but nevertheless you see this exclamation on movie posters and you are obviously supposed to think that a minor miracle has occurred. Try it at home. Brush your teeth for the 10,000th time in your life and cry out “I HAVE DONE IT AGAIN!” and try to imagine that anyone else might actually give a damn, and that you wouldn’t come across like a minty-breathed madman.
But although “[Blank] has done it again!” could even be an insult when someone like Michael Bay or Uwe Boll is involved, it truly is a compliment for Aardman Animation. The Oscar-winning stop-motion animators of Wallace & Gromit and Creature Comforts (and the CGI-animated holiday classic Arthur Christmas) have developed an uncanny knack for wrapping droll humor in winsome packages. The awkwardly titled Shaun the Sheep Movie is but the latest in a long line of homegrown delights delivered from their hallowed halls.
Based on the television series of (mostly) the same name, Shaun the Sheep Movie is the story of a woolly young hero who lives at Mossy Bottom Farm with a Farmer, a guard dog named Bitzer and a flock of equally fluffy friends. It’s an idyllic existence but a monotonous one, so Shaun concocts an elaborate scheme to give him and his fellow sheep the day off. But then the Farmer rolls down a hill into The Big City, gets conked on the head and develops amnesia, and the animals must venture out into the great unknown to save their owner, impersonate surgeons, fumble with fancy table manners and evade an overzealous animal control agent who teeters on the brink of the insanity.
It is a mishmash of elaborate contrivances, and as well it should be. Shaun the Sheep Movie is a silent comedy – full of sound effects but devoid of dialogue except for the occasional gobbledygook – and it relies entirely on absurd circumstance to work, and it works well. It’s a snowball of jokes rolling down a particularly powdery hill, building both momentum and mass until it finally smashes into explosive comedy, a tender heart or a weird combination of the two. It’s heart-exploding comedy at its tenderist.
Films like Shaun the Sheep Movie elicit wistful sighs from classic film lovers. It is the sort of sentimental silent comedy that The Artist aimed for but didn’t quite nail, and one suspects that Jacques Tati himself would probably have approved. As a contemporary experiment in cinematic simplicity it is a winner, but as a child’s introduction to the artistic language of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin it is practically perfect. If a single child goes home and asks to see another film just like Shaun the Sheep, and if their parents take that opportunity to expose their kid to Sherlock Jr., Safety Last or Modern Times, the world will be a better place for it.
There’s not much more to say about Shaun the Sheep movie. It’s not baa-aa-aa-aa-d at all. In fact, it’s a-doe-rable.* It’s a long series of cleverly orchestrated and very successful jokes supported by a very sweet story, and ewe are going to love it.
*Yes, I know that’s goats. Shut up.
Images: Aardman Animations
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on two weekly YouTube series: Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.