Pixar gets a lot of press for their remarkable track record in the field of a delightful children’s animation and deservingly so. However, not nearly enough love is shared for Aardman, the British Claymation studio who have yet to deliver a movie that isn’t so damn delightful that it’ll reduce even the most cynical adult into a giggling child. That’s probably a result of their 3-5 year gap between movies given the labour intensive nature of stop motion animation. Yet, whenever Aardman delivers a flick like Chicken Run, Wallace And Gromit, and now Shaun The Sheep, it’s hard not to be delighted by the results. Seriously, it takes effort not to be charmed by these things.
The plucky lil’ Shaun The Sheep has become a bit of a mascot for the Aardman folks. He first appeared in one of the Oscar-winning Wallace And Gromit shorts (A Close Shave, to be precise) and then got a popular TV series that’s now been spun off into a movie. Not a bad career for a character incapable of speech beyond the occasional, emotional “baaa.” Generally Shaun goes on goofy little adventures with his farmland buddies on a deliberately small scale TV show, but this is a movie so it’s time for a grand Shaun adventure and co-writers/directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak deliver exactly that.
Weary of his days grazing at the farm (it’s hard out there for a sheep, yo), Shaun spots a chocolate bar ad on the side of the bus suggesting to “take a day off” and decides to follow that advice. Along with his flock of buddies, Shaun and the sheep concoct a plot to trick their farmer into sleeping all day. Unfortunately things go ridiculously wrong and through one of the many exquisitely executed silent slapstick set pieces that make up the plot, the farmer ends up on a one-way trip to the city where a head-bumping accident leaves him with amnesia and somehow convinced that he’s a trendy hairdresser. That means it’s up to Shaun, his sheep, and the farm’s dog to find the farmer, restore his memory, and bring him home. Meanwhile, there’s a pesky city animal control worker out there trying to shove them all into the pound. So tensions run high and there will be some pretty ridiculous disguises.
On a certain level, Shaun The Sheep is a simple movie. The story is straightforward and there’s no pesky subtext. On an another level, the movie is a remarkable feat from the Aardman animators. Not only have they managed to successfully pull a TV character into the movies and deal with the massive technical challenges of animating a feature film one frame at a time, but they’ve told their story entirely silently. Characters might open their mouths frequently, but nothing more than mumbles and sound effects ever come out. That means the story has to be told entirely visually and somehow even with dialogue tied behind their backs (and the Aardman folks are quite good at witty banter), they’ve delivered a movie as funny, warm, exciting, touching, and flat out entertaining as any children’s movie released this summer. The Aardman team’s ambitions may never aim much more than charming entertainment, but did they ever deliver.
The gags come fast and furiously ranging from potty humor and slapstick to genuine surrealism and bizarre asides. Every character is remarkably well crafted from the beautifully simple designs to their distinct and personality-revealing movements. It’s a masterfully calculated bit of fluff (or perhaps wool…sorry, couldn’t resist) that harkens back in style to the oldest silent animated shorts from Disney or Warner Brothers, while also feeling freshly contemporary and distinctly, sardonically British. Is it the best Aardman movie? Probably not. The Wallace And Gromit films are pretty remarkable and Chicken Run was one of the most underrated animated efforts of the 2000s. However, the Shaun The Sheep movie can stand proudly amongst the rest of Aardman’s output. No one does it quite like the lovable Aardman chaps. The hardest part of watching one of their movies is knowing when that it’s over, it’ll be at least a three year wait until the next one…sigh…
As expected, Shaun the Sheep looks spectacular on Blu-ray. The added depth and clarity of the HD presentation shows off the handcrafted wonderment produced by the animators beautifully. If you’re a fan of stop-motion animation, it’s impossible not to be floored by what Aardman have done and given that this is practically a silent movie constructed primarily out of visuals, there’s so much to admire in every frame. The disc is certainly worth picking up for the 1080p transfer alone, which is a good thing since the special feature section is slim to say the least. In fact, there’s only a single 12.5 minute featurette and that’s it. Thankfully, that featurette does swiftly move through the entire production from script to score with a gentle sense of humour inspired by the whimsical silent comedy of Shaun. So, it’s certainly a nice addition, but a shame that animation and film buffs don’t get a more in depth examination of how this remarkable little movie was made.
Does it deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
Despite being scant on special features, this is a must-own for any fan of animation. You can literally see the fingerprints left by countless hours of work put into every frame of this fun film that can be appreciated by all ages. The fact that you can own a piece of work like this for less than the price of a few pints at the pub is kind of bonkers.