Review: Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

Shaun the Sheep Movie

Rating

Director

Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

Screenplay

Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

Length

85 min.

Starring

Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Richard Webber, Kate Harbour

MPAA Rating

PG for rude humor

Original Preview

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Buy on DVD/Blu-ray

Soundtrack

Poster

Source Material

Review

With the predominant medium of animated pictures being computer animation, it’s always pleasing to see those employing cel techniques as well as stop-motion methods. Shaun the Sheep Movie uses the latter with solid, but problematic results.

Masters of visual storytelling, Aardman Animations bring their latest marvel to the big screen in an adaptation of the ongoing British stop-motion animated series Shaun the Sheep. In this film, Shaun and his fellow sheep want little more than a break from the mundanity of daily existence. To accomplish this, they trick their farmer into falling asleep. Unfortunately, when the trailer in which he rests is accidentally knocked loose, Shaun and company must venture into the big city and locate their master and friend before he gets himself in trouble.

The story is simple, but the details are amazing. Aardman has done such great work with the likes of Wallace and Gromit and their Oscar-winning short films that it’s easy to forget that even great production houses can put out weak efforts. The filmmakers have chosen to avoid dialogue in favor of physicality. Drawing influence from the Vaudevillian style, Aardman conveys each plot detail through sight gags and visual expressions. Admittedly, Aardman is brilliant at this type of cinema and directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak lead a superb creative team in assembling the environment and the characters which populate it.

What Shaun the Sheep Movie does well is presenting big, bold ideas in the restrictive space of the film screen. As with their prior effort, Pirates! Band of Misfits, they excel at sneaking in subtle graphic commentary in the background. Catching all the minor elements that stand out will require multiple viewings.

Where the film falters, and this is more a mark of its advantages among adult audiences rather than with children, Shaun the Sheep Movie has limited voice-over work. Kids aren’t likely to engage with a film like this in a measurable way. While they may not understand all of what’s being said, without that vocal connection, it may be more difficult to get them to sit still for something they have to pay the utmost attention to. Adults will have a much better time, but even then, audiences aren’t as tolerant of such endeavors as they might have been thirty years ago.

Further, it’s hard to imagine the film working with dialogue, which gives credence to the filmmakers’ desires to avoid it. That said, the premise is a bit far fetched. That’s saying a lot for a film about anthropomorphic sheep. What it means is that the storyline itself is uncharacteristically generic and takes some rather strange twists along the way. The twists are worth the effort, but they lack realistic coherence, which might explain why it isn’t as marvelous as films like Wallace & Gromit or Pirates! The audience expects a certain measure of zaniness in animated films, but there’s a defined limit to what works well and what works modestly. Shaun the Sheep Movie falls into the latter category.

Where does this leave Aardman in terms of its future possibilities? They still have a solid track record. While it might not be as impressive as their stop-motion competitor Laika’s (Kubo and the Two Strings), there is plenty of room in the medium for this kind of effort. Even as it stands, Shaun the Sheep Movie is better than many animated films and, when you’re looking to just sit and laugh, the studio’s efforts are among the best.

Review Written

October 24, 2016

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