SHAUN THE SHEEP
****1/2 (out of 5)
August 5, 2015
Justin Fletcher as SHAUN / TIMMY
John Sparkes as THE FARMER / BITZER
Omid Djalili as TRUMPER
Studio: Aardman Animation
Directed by: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Ever since I was a child and had only four stations on my television, I have been drawn to British programming, particularly British comedies. This was because while my local ABC, NBC and CBS stations had generally the same mainstream material (and often broadcast the exact same slate of programming at various times of the day, such as soap operas in the afternoon), there was only one option for non-cable-subscribers to see something different.
That difference was PBS, which was known for educational programming, but also for importing British programming – everything from “Masterpiece Theater” to “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” It was this steady stream of programming from across the pond that gave me a sharper sense of humor than some of my contemporaries, and I grew very appreciative of most British humor.
Of course, the PBS stations of old would herald this as a triumph of their programming slate. I could have been paraded on the air during their fundraising period (which I always hated as a kid because it essentially held many of my favorite shows hostage for a boring telethon). Nowadays, this just isn’t the case. There’s plenty of opportunity to experience British programming – from the schedule on BBC America (which has been aggressively marketed over the past five years) to a bevy of choices for streaming programs via Netflix and Amazon Prime.
But because there are so many choices nowadays, American audiences aren’t left in desperation, which is what forced some in my generation to choose to watch British programming.
This is a long, roundabout way of saying that I adored “Shaun the Sheep,” and a big reason for that is that I am quite attuned to the British programming mindset. My kids also loved “Shaun the Sheep,” and they are no stranger to British programming sensibilities, having been raised watching shows like “Doctor Who” and “The IT Crowd” with me.
However, the typical mainstream American might not fall in love with this movie the way I did. Unlike some smaller animated films made by Hollywood, “Shaun the Sheep” does not spoon-feed its humor to the audience. It’s not that anything really happens in the movie that make it unrelateable for mainstream America. Instead, it’s just made with a distinctly European – and specifically – British feel.
The story follows Shaun and his flock of sheep living in the country outside of the Big City in England. They have a very simple life, and soon the sheep get bored. Also, while they like the Farmer who is in charge of them, they want a day off from the grind that takes place on the farm. In an effort to get a day off, the sheep trick the Farmer into taking a nap in a trailer out back by the road. However, when the trailer accidentally rolls away towards the Big City, the sheep take it upon themselves to go find it.
This results in a charming little adventure of farm animals navigating their way through a modern city. It’s a simple and common story, as old as the old country mouse and city mouse dynamic. The sheep are wooly fish out of water that need to learn to blend into the sometimes sophisticated and sometimes dangerous city.
One of the things that might be a challenge for a mainstream audience is that there is no dialogue at all in the movie. It’s not a silent film by any stretch of the imagination, but none of the characters talk in discernable English – even the humans. In this way, it does play out a bit like an older film, like a silent-era movie which relies on sight gags and visual styles. It’s impressive that the movie keeps this up for its full running time, but I never felt it drag or slow down.
The brilliance of “Shaun the Sheep” is that this movie is made with such energy and care, much like the previous films from Aardman like “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and “Chicken Run.” Fans of animation will have no problem ramping up to its style because animation is often told with plenty of sound but no dialogue. Even mainstream hit movies can pull this off, like the adorable Pixar film “Wall-E” (though that does switch to dialogue-driven story in the third act).
“Shaun the Sheep” is an energetic and charming romp through the claymation countryside. It’s a movie that people of all ages should be able to appreciate. And sure, it’s a bit out-of-the-box compared to so many other movies out there, but that’s actually part of the reason why people should give it a chance.