After an accident in which the farmer loses his memory and ends up in the Big City, the farm is without a caretaker. Shaun the sheep decides to get the farmer back and goes to the big city alone. Once there, his whole family has followed him and together they stumble through the big world.
Oh Aardman studios, I love your work. I loved Chicken Run (2000), and mostly for the music. I was a little guy when I saw it in the theatre and I remember whistling for days the tune that was playing while the chickens were building their crate-airplane. Then Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) was released and I laughed hard about the rooftop chase between Gromit and the bigger dog. For a while afterwards I was obsessed about the Wallace and Gromit shorts.
In all of these movies, what worked best was the non-spoken, physical humor. The funniest moments were little images of characters and short scenes of something physical happening. In Chicken Run for example there is the big momma chicken who is always knitting. Consider the moment in Wallace and Gromit when the big scary dog opens a little pink wallet, or in the shorts the little sketch that Gromit is riding a toy train and is laying new tracks to keep moving forward. It is this physical comedy that Aardman excels in.
After Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, it was announced that there was a fire in their studio and lots of work was destroyed. I feared that their days were over, but they continued on to make the Shaun the Sheep series. I haven’t watched this series, but now that there is a feature-length film, I wanted to check it out.
In Shaun the Sheep Movie, Aardman finally dispenses with spoken text entirely. The film is mute, with only little grunts and exclamations from the sheep and the people doing the talking. It is their expressions and physical actions that communicate emotions, and the humor is now totally dependent on physical comedy. Aardman knows what they’re good at and now focus on it completely.
I found this actually a bit tiring for a feature-length movie. In Wall-E, there is also no real spoken text for the first half of the movie and that worked well, but if the whole movie had been like that, it would have started dragging. Shaun the Sheep suffers that drag a bit and feels a bit long. Feature-length is just not the optimal length of time for this kind of work, it seems to me.
But this is basically the only critique that I can give the movie. Every scene is so meticulously worked out, you can just see the joy of making an animation spilling out of the screen. The environs of the farm and especially the big city are wonderfully put together. The characters are all over-the-top caricatures but that is no detriment to the movie, in fact it adds to the comedy. Caricatures were never a problem for the stories that Aardman wants to tell, because they work in the context of physical comedy.
Compared to some of the Dreamworks animations such as Madagascar, Shaun the Sheep Movie seems so… cute and harmless. There is definitely craftsmanship involved in Shaun the Sheep and that makes me admire it a lot, and I like it because it shows how to make a beautiful animation without the in-your-face attention grabbing of a movie like Madagascar. Occasionally action goes fast in Shaun the Sheep, but the big difference is that in Shaun the Sheep sudden speed is used sparsely for comedic effect, while in certain Dreamworks animations it is to grab your attention like a trumpet blowing in your face.
I would recommend this movie for all ages, but it does require a bit of patience and appreciation of claymation craftsmanship.