Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)
Dirs: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak
Aardman make a move away from witty dialogue to focus on pure visual hilarity in this charming family film with everyone’s favourite sheep!
Shaun wants a day off from his routine on the farm so plans an escape, inadvertently sending the farmer into the big city and giving him amnesia. Shaun and his flock then have to get the farmer back home, braving an unfamiliar environment and dodging the tyrannical animal control officer!
This feature film uses exactly the same style as the series, just taking the opportunity of the longer, yet not overlong, run time to do a story on a bigger scale than previously possible. It’s not surprising that it’s completely in keeping with the series when you realise that director Richard Starzak also directed much of that. The characters and their antics are the stars here, not headlining celebrity voices, so the opening beautifully says ‘Starring Shaun’ and other characters, which is lovely and set the film off on the right foot. Certainly there’s some excellent voice acting, but as hardly anyone outside the U.K. will know who Justin Fletcher is, the man who bleats doesn’t get top billing in the opening but is saved for a proper credit at the end.
Though Aardman have always been good at witty dialogue especially in the ‘Wallace and Gromit’ films and even things such as ‘Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists’, this stays true to Shaun and puts that completely aside to make a film that is all visual. There’s no discernible dialogue, just grunts, grumbles and exclamations, no real recognisable speech. This cleverly makes it a wonderful prospect for international export as it would need next to no tweaking for all markets.
This allows the film to relish in adding lots of little details as Aardman have the habit of doing, with some that won’t mean much to international audiences such as the ‘Blue Peter’ badge. Most of the film is very relatable internationally, helped in no small amount by the dialogue-free nature. It feels British and Britain-set to a certain degree, though there’s also a lovely multi-cultural feel to the big city, with many of the human characters clearly of different ethnicities and cultures.
THe humour isn’t just targeted at children, I felt it would work for all ages. It owes so much to slapstick silent comedy and classic forms of entertainment that have largely gone out of fashion, and there are things that the kids will find funny but won’t quite get, while the adults will enjoy those elements in full. Some of the film feels like ‘set pieces’ to allow for certain jokes, yet it all works together as a whole, with a clear beginning, middle and ending that make perfect sense as to how one leads into the other.
The film also makes nice use of music, both featuring the ‘Shaun the Sheep’ theme from the series, and a song that is repeated through the film and becomes part of the plot. The whistling nature of much of it keeps a jolly tone, and is more than a little reminiscent of the theme from ‘The Italian Job’ or even ‘The Great Escape’.
I’ve always been an Aardman fan, and even as a twenty-something I’m not ashamed to say I do occasionally watch episodes of ‘Shaun the Sheep’ without any kids to blame it on. I started watching this with my friend’s daughter and when she went only half an hour into it, I finished it off all on my own. It’s not just a kid’s film, there’s true widespread appeal.
‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ is currently nominated in the ‘Best Animated Feature’ categories of both the BAFTAs and the Academy Awards. It seems unlikely to win due to the huge support for contender ‘Inside Out’, but is very deserving of the nominations as Aardman always are.