By Marty Mulrooney
Shaun the Sheep Movie is a feature-length stop-motion animated comedy film produced by Aardman Animations, creators of Wallace and Gromit. Based on the award-winning children’s television show Shaun the Sheep (itself a spinoff of the 1995 Wallace and Gromit short film A Close Shave), the film sees the mischievous Shaun the sheep pining for a day off from the busy daily routine of the farm. He soon devises a plan to send the Farmer to sleep, but unforeseen consequences result in the entire flock – along with Bitzer the dog – heading into the city to save the day…
Shaun the Sheep Movie begins with a faded home movie showing Shaun, Bitzer the dog and the rest of the flock as young animals, enjoying their time on the farm before posing with the smiling Farmer for a photograph. This entire opening sequence is accompanied by the feel-good song ‘Feels Like Summer’ playing from the Farmer’s cassette player, a collaboration between Tim Wheeler (of rock band Ash), the film’s composer Ilan Eshkeri and former-Kaiser Chief Nick Hodgson – it’s a song that will repeat several times throughout Shaun’s adventure (there’s a beautiful rendition by a baa-bershop quartet later on) and gain special significance by the time the final credits roll.
Cut to the present and life has become a chore, with one day blurring into the next as the sun rises, the rooster crows, the alarm clock rings and the Farmer’s schedule begins all over again. Tired of the monotony of it all, Shaun devises a plan with the rest of the flock to trick the Farmer into falling asleep, allowing them to have as much fun as they want. When Bitzer finds out he demands the Farmer is woken up immediately, but an unlikely chain of events sees the caravan he’s locked inside hurtling away from the countryside and into the big city…
What follows is an adventure full of visual comedy. Just like the television show, the characters don’t actually speak per se – although Justin Fletcher is fantastic as always ‘voicing’ Shaun – with the human characters talking gibberish and the animals making, well, animal noises (albeit exaggerated). As a result Shaun the Sheep Movie takes on the charm of a silent film, with Aardman Animations working overtime to convey their story without words.
It works – the 85 minute runtime never drags thanks to such fantastic visual gags as the flock wearing stolen clothes to pass as three humans, arms flopping and legs wobbling as they explore the city. They even find time to visit a restaurant, with predictably hilarious results. Meanwhile, evil animal warden A. Trumper is hot on their tails, the Farmer has amnesia and has become a famous celebrity hairdresser and Bitzer is asked to perform major surgery on a hospital patient…
The handmade visuals are utterly charming and although the scope is still small, knowing the amount of time and effort that has gone into the whole production (the Blu-ray extras are short but sweet, with the flawless high-definition presentation showing off every plasticine thumbprint) will fill older viewers with a sense of wonderment to match that of the younger viewers the film is aimed at.
The humour may be too gentle for some adults, but children will be enthralled and there is a surprisingly poignant finale that masterfully ties into the opening sequence and may even cause a few tears. Full of family-friendly comedy, slapstick visuals and with a bleating heart (pardon the pun) that stresses the importance and value of family, Shaun the Sheep Movie is a delight that, much like Shaun himself, is hard not to love.
9 OUT OF 10