Shaun (voiced by Justin Fletcher) is a mischievous sheep who lives with his flock on Mossy Bottom Farm. Tired of the day-to-day mundane routines that he and his flock have to go through, he devises a plan to break free from his farmer (voiced by John Sparkes) and have a big day off. However, in the process of escaping, their plan leads to the farmer getting into an accident and eventually going missing.
Finding life to be difficult without the farmer, Shaun and the sheep band together, along with the farmer’s dog Bitzer (voiced by John Sparkes), and venture into the city in hopes of finding him, all while avoiding the dreaded animal control worker, A. Trumper (voiced by Omid Djalili).
From Aardman Animations, the stop-motion company behind the Wallace and Gromit series and its 2005 feature film, and their 2000 debut feature film Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep Movie is based on the Wallace and Gromit spinoff series that’s been running to this day since 2007. Longtime Aardman creator and frequent feature film director Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Flushed Away) has stepped away from the director’s chair for this film (though he still serves as executive producer and voices himself in the film) and in his place are The Curse of the Were-Rabbit screenwriter Mark Burton and Shaun the Sheep developer and director Richard Starzak.
Before I go any further, let me ask this question. Does it say something profoundly sad about the state of today’s comedies that I laughed more during the dumbest moments of Shaun the Sheep Movie than I did during the “smartest” moments of Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Ted 2 and Vacation?
The beauty of Shaun the Sheep Movie is that aside from the vocal grumblings and mutterings from the voice cast, the film consists of no dialogue (unless you count the “Feels Like Summer” song that plays throughout the film that will surely stick in your head long after you’ve seen it), and yet it is still thoroughly entertaining. Playing like a Silent Era slapstick film, the film’s humor relies on sight and physical gags, which never let up and keeps things going smoothly for its entire run time (though a minor quibble is a few too many fart jokes). As was the case with the flawed but still enjoyable Minions, the sheep could’ve come off as being better in smaller doses (a risk any television series takes when translating over to feature film), but such isn’t the case here.
While there’s no doubt that this film is certainly geared for kids, little kids even, the beautiful stop-motion animation and effective use of slapstick humor is more than enough to entertain parents, and not in the eye-roll, groaning, “Whatever, I’m here for the kids” way. Pop culture references pop up here and there (including hilarious nods to The Silence of the Lambs, The Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear) without feeling like forced, obligated throwaway gags just be relevant. Even if your children aren’t exactly getting the reference behind the jokes, the pure silliness in the way they’re executed will still have them giggling.
Above all, it’s the simple but effective storytelling from writer/directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak that is what makes the film so delightful. You can tell there’s a genuine sense of joy from the filmmakers to the voice actors that’s absolutely infectious and almost impossible not to get caught up in. And amidst all the zany humor, endearing themes of loyalty and devotion in the way the sheep come together like a family when the going gets tough for them are admirable story traits for the kids and provide the film its heart.
A part of me is still curious if American children will be as receptive to the droll, wry British style of humor that Aardman specializes in. If the theater I was at is any indication, the laughter I overheard from them is a good sign.
Brilliantly animated, heartfelt and funny, Shaun the Sheep Movie is another stop-motion hit from Aardman Animations that features no dialogue, but still is able to tell its story through various forms of humor from slapstick to pantomime and some first-rate, diligently crafted animated sequences. Its sweet and simple narrative and many clever gags are sure to entertain children while also bringing the inner child out of their parents.
I give Shaun the Sheep Movie an A- (★★★½).