Of all the animated art forms, stop motion animation is by far the most labor intensive, so much so that it’s a wonder that anybody even attempts it in this day and age. And yet the team at U.K.’s Aardman Animations not only uses it as their primary method of filmmaking, but does it to such a high level as to rank amongst the best animated work in the world.
They’re back with Shaun the Sheep Movie, based on the acclaimed television series that itself was a spinoff of Aardman’s most famous property, Wallace & Gromit. As in the series, the film follows Shaun and his sheep cohorts as they commit a series of hijinks that mostly come at the expense of the farmer who owns them and his loyal dog, Bitzer.
When the sheep group decides they would like a day off from the normal farm drudgery, their choice sets in motion a series of events that lands the farmer in the hospital in the nearby big city. Realizing they actually need him to survive, they set out to rescue him using methods that can’t help but cause more havoc.
What ends up being the film’s biggest strength is actually what it lacks the most: spoken dialogue. Not one character, including the numerous humans who appear, speaks a word, with communication involving indistinct grunts, bleats, barks and body language. Yet, as with the great silent movies, at no time are the intentions of the characters or the plot of the film unclear, demonstrating that actual words can sometimes be overrated.
For anybody with even a passing familiarity with Aardman’s previous work like Chicken Run or The Pirates! Band of Misfits, it’s easy to recognize the distinctive look of the characters. Most have gaps in their teeth and perfectly round eyes, among other characteristics. The decision to have each sheep’s mouth come out sideways when “talking” is a fun one that makes them stand apart from other Aardman creations.
But it’s the constant inventiveness of writers/directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak and their team that truly makes the film a winner. The lack of dialogue frees them up to throw in as many sight gags and slapstick actions as they can, a cornucopia of comedy that had me smiling and laughing out loud virtually from start to finish.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Shaun the Sheep Movie is purely for kids. People, especially movie lovers, of any age can appreciate the artistry and patience it takes to deliver such a quick-witted, charming and seamlessly animated movie.