Shaun the Sheep: The Movie is the latest film from Bristol-based Aardman Animation, whose award-winning CV includes Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists and – if you’re old enough to remember – the British Gas Creature Comforts adverts.
Shaun and his gang of sheep are bored of standing round in a field all day, the occasional highlight being when they get sheered, and decide to take a day off. Things don’t quite go to plan, with the farmer ending up in hospital and losing his memory. With no one to take charge, the farm soon descends into anarchy; Shaun and his friends heading off into the city to find the farmer and get things back to normal.
While the plot is basic, threadbare stuff, what makes Shaun the Sheep so much fun are the near constant sight gags that Aardman is famed for. Family films can be a tricky business, you could make a film that children will love, but leaves adults bored or bewildered, or you come up with something that children will like, passes the time, but the humour, the subtext, goes miles over the heads of anyone under twelve. Aardman has this talent of making film and TV that every family member will laugh at, and Shaun the Sheep does exactly the same thing. There are so many smart jokes crammed into Shaun’s eighty-five minutes, including a stray animal catcher who, not only takes enormous pleasure in seeing adorable animals being banged up, he listens to M People in his van; the sheep singing acapella (including one sheep doing a bit of beat boxing), and the farmer ending up a Z-list celebrity when he works as a hair stylist for the rich and famous.
Aardman has been working with Plasticine stop-motion animation from day-one, and while it might be viewed as quaint and outdated when pitted against Pixar or Dreamworks, it looks just as impressive. There is no dialogue during Shaun’s running time, but you get just as much insight into a character as you would from an Oscar-winning actor. Whether it’s Shaun angrily shaking his head, raising an unimpressed eyebrow, or the baby sheep about to start crying, anyone who watches Shaun will engage with its furry cast in a way that bigger budget animation can only envy.
It’s hard to imagine another film this year having anywhere near as much laughs and personality as Shaun the Sheep: The Movie (Minions will hopefully – fingers crossed! – deliver on its funny-every-time-you-watch-it trailer). Aardman only release a film every two-or-three years, but when they do, they make virtually non-stop, inventive laughter look easy.
4 out of 5