Shaun the Sheep Movie Review

Posted: December 14, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

shaun-the-sheep-movie-poster-2Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

When it comes to animation studios, the big four (artistically speaking) are clearly Disney, Pixar, Studio Ghibli, and Aardman. Of the four, Aardman is something of the odd man out. Disney and Pixar are masters of high quality populist entertainment and Studio Ghibli makes some of the most ambitions and unique animated films you’ll ever see. Aardman’s films are generally more low-key than any of the other animation studios, and their most passionate films tend to be claymation. Aardman have carved out a pretty solid rep for themselves and most of their films have met a consistent level of quality. Their newest film, Shaun the Sheep Movie, may not have opened to the massive fanfare of movies like Inside Out or Minions, but the film did receive pretty ecstatic reviews (99% on Rotten Tomatoes) and earned around $80 million on a budget of $20 million. I actually wanted to see the film in theaters and while that never worked out, I’m happy to finally catch up with it.

Shaun is a sheep living on a farm with his flock. Their lives are one of routine, as every day is spent following their farmer’s rigid schedule. The sheep have become bored and Shaun is inspired to take a day off. So, the sheep hatch a plot to put their farmer to sleep and take a day for themselves. Unfortunately, Shaun’s actions lead to their farmer being set loose in The Big City (which is the city’s name) with amnesia. So, Shaun and his flock head out to bring the farmer back, setting off a chain of wacky antics and set-pieces.

From the description, it’s pretty clear Shaun the Sheep Movie is pretty loosely plotted. The film is actually based on a series of shorts Aardman has made for TV and one can see the filmmakers struggling to fill the feature runtime. The plot is basically just a series of sketches and while there is a message here about appreciating the things on your life, but that isn’t really the focus. Even the animation, which is admittedly really neat, doesn’t seem that much better than what their shorts on TV look like. For the most part, the film doesn’t do much to justify its existence as a film. The exception to this are some of the set-pieces, which are fairly elaborate and a lot of fun. The highlight is a climactic chase with Shaun and the other sheep operating pantomime horse while being hunted by a crazed animal-control worker.

What makes Shaun the Sheep Movie fairly unique is the genre. This is essentially a silent comedy. There is sound of course; the film makes great use of music and sound effects, but all of the dialogue is replaced by gibberish. The story is told entirely through physical action and through signs which populate the world. All of the physical gags also follow the similar patterns and rhythms established in the silent era. That’s really neat to see in a kids’ movie in 2015. More importantly, the jokes here are genuinely pretty funny. I laughed pretty consistently at the inventiveness and execution of a lot of these gags, more so than I have at some of the more “adult” comedies I’ve seen recently. Were any of the jokes hilariously gut-busting? Not exactly, but Shaun the Sheep Movie isn’t that kind of comedy. The humour benefits from being clever and neat rather than its ability to elicit huge laughs.

I don’t know if it’s the simplicity of the messages or the general scrappiness of stop-motion, but there’s a genuine charm at the heart of Shaun the Sheep Movie that I find really endearing. This is a funny and creative film which manages to avoid cheap kids movie jokes, as well as even cheaper references for adults. Rather, the humour comes from the universal appeal of basic physical comedy and strong execution. Does it execute on the level of something like Inside Out. No, it’s a bit too simplistic and I’m still not entirely sure this really needed to a feature film. Still, it is one of the better forms of children’s entertainment out there and a nice reminded of what these movies can be when made with a little creativity.

B

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