Shaun the Sheep (Lionsgate, PG)

shaun-the-sheep 75Shaun the Sheep has well more than its share of visual inventiveness, and Aardman character designs are always charming as well.

 

 

 

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Despite my literally decades-long fandom of the British studio Aardman Animations (Wallace & Gromit, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Chicken Run), I’ve somehow never seen their television series Shaun the Sheep. But now with Shaun being next in line to get a feature from Aardman, I wasn’t about to skip it just because I’m not familiar with the source material. Besides, this is a movie kids are supposed to be able to understand, right? Surely I could keep up.

I am happy to report that I am apparently as smart as your average six-year old, because I was able to follow Shaun the Sheep, and had a good ol’ time besides. The premise is simple: Shaun lives on a farm with a bunch of other sheep (Shaun’s recognizable for being the smallest, cutest one of the flock), a sheepdog, some pigs, and, of course, a farmer. The farmer shears the sheep in the beginning of the film, and being sore about it, the flock masterminds a plan to put the farmer to sleep so that they can take over his house for a little while. Things run amiss (of course), and the farmer winds up in the Big City with amnesia, with only the sheep (and sheepdog) to help remind him who he is.

One of the very few things I knew about the film Shaun the Sheep going into the screening was that it had no dialogue. And surely, the synopsis above sounds workable for a silent-style film. As it happens, there’s not normal dialogue in Shaun the Sheep, but the farmer (especially) and sheep (sometimes) do grumble and mutter and seemingly speak, all in faintly-intelligible gibberish, not entirely unlike Popeye’s utterances in the old Fleischer brothers’ cartoons.

Though there are plenty of great set pieces here (Aardman sure knows how to stage an adventure spoof—see the 1995 Wallace & Gromit short “A Close Shave” for all the evidence you need). One particular standout is when the flock gets caught by the film’s villain, the Big City’s animal control guy, and stuck in the Animal Containment Unit. In one brief, thoroughly delightful scene, we get the pleasure of both a great escape and also a silly animal prison replete with Silence of the Lambs references and a dog with a particularly intense stare.

As one would expect of an essentially dialogue-free film done in stop-motion animation, Shaun the Sheep has well more than its share of visual inventiveness, and Aardman character designs are always charming as well. 2015 is already shaping up to be a great year for family films, and Shaun the Sheep will be running toward the front of that pack come year’s end. | Pete Timmermann

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