SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE
Directors: Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
Cast: The voices of Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Richard Webber, Kate Harbour, Tim Hands, Andy Nyman, Simon Greenall, Emma Tate, Jack Paulson
MPAA Rating: (for rude humor)
Running Time: 1:25
Release Date: 8/5/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 4, 2015
There is not a single word spoken in Shaun the Sheep Movie (So it is as awkward to type as it is to say; there's definitely a "the" and maybe a colon missing somewhere in there). Even the infectiously catchy theme song of the television show upon which the movie is based becomes an instrumental. There are a few generic pop songs here and there to set the mood, although it's sort of redundant.
The movie comes from the people at Aardman Animations, who are the experts of stop-motion animation, and you may recall that they are the folks behind the finicky Wallace and his ever-patient dog Gromit, who doesn't speak a word but can communicate levels of pitying disdain for his owner's actions with a simple roll of his eyes (The eponymous sheep, by the by, comes from one those characters' short adventures). Taking that into account, the notion of what essentially amounts to a silent comedy isn't too much of a stretch for the animation studio.
It does become a little repetitive talking about the efforts of these folks, because it inevitability becomes a long list of familiar items extoling the virtues of the medium and the skill of these artists' craft. The same applies to this movie, which is clearly an effort of love and care.
The characters are distinct enough that we can tell they were each individually crafted by hand. On the clay models, we can see the fingerprints of animators whose hands are made otherwise invisible by the collection of single-frame images that give the illusion of these characters being in motion of their own will. The miniature sets are filled with little details and imperfections that make them feel like places where these characters actually live and work.
You've probably heard all of this or similar sentiments before now, and I'm certain I've written these thoughts or others like it before this review, too. If anything, this production doesn't quite hit the level of quality we expect from Aardman in the usual departments. That's more of a compliment for the studio than a backhand to the folks behind this movie.
Directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak are working with established characters and sets from the TV show. Those meet what we've come to expect, but we can tell when and where the new materials come into play. The background characters appear a little wobbly and poorly defined. The metropolitan locales, where most of the movie takes place, don't quite have the level of craftsmanship as the farm, where the story begins and ends. It's little stuff, but that just goes to show how high our expectations are for Aardman, based on the lofty standards established by the studio's previous work.
With the technical side of things out of the way, we get to something new and specific about the movie itself, which is refreshing. That is the movie's method, which does most closely resemble that of an old-fashioned silent comedy. Sure, the characters "speak" here, if one considers the baaing of sheep, the barking of dogs, and the unintelligible mumbling of human beings to be "speaking." Most of that, though, only gives us the tone of what's being "said." Save for a few instances of written words (taking up the entire frame like intertitles of old), every story and emotional point is communicated visually through action.
The story is thus: Shaun (baas by Justin Fletcher), the innocently mischievous leader of a flock of a sheep at Mossy Bottom Farm, decides he wants to have a day off from the farm's routine schedule. He comes up with a plan to distract Bitzer (barks by John Sparkes), the farm's sheepdog, with a bone (paying off a duck with bread to do so) and to depose the Farmer (murmurs by Sparkes) by making him fall asleep on the job (the way only sheep can).
The trailer where the sheep detain the Farmer for his nap wheels away to the Big City, where he suffers memory loss after getting bonked on the head. Shaun, the rest of the sheep, and Bitzer try to find the Farmer to return order to the farm, but an animal control worker (villainous mumbles by Omid Djalili) is determined to lock them up in the city's animal shelter.
The movie is a near-continuous stream of gags. We get big, comic setpieces (the trailer's destructive trek to the city and a lot of chaos at a fancy French restaurant), unlikely disguises (the sheep pass themselves off as human by wearing clothes and using cleaning utensils for hair), and a few off-color jokes (a few flatulent moments and the sheep at the bottom of the human disguise lapping water out of a fountain, which, of course, looks disgusting to people looking from behind). They're of the hit-and-miss variety, although there's much more success in the smaller, more character-based ones (the Farmer becoming a famous hair stylist because he can use clippers and an assortment of ancillary characters who get big laughs from doing little, such as a beady-eyed pit bull that has the mobility of a cardboard cutout).
The spirit of Shaun the Sheep Movie is its best asset, but that also limits what the movie sets out to and can accomplish. It's a sporadically funny, constantly charming, but ultimately slight effort.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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