“Have a … Day Off”
Aardman is back after a three-year feature film hiatus with Shaun the Sheep Movie based on their television series “Shaun the Sheep” and it is a delight. It’s incredible to believe this newest entry to the studio’s stable cost only a sixth of critically-panned, computer animation debut Flushed Away‘s budget because of what appears to be a permanent return to stop-motion. I guess it helps to already have the clamation figures ready to go, but you’d think the time alone to capture their movements would increase spending in comparison to digital coding and yet even the underrated Arthur Christmas utilized four times the amount. Regardless of computers or clay, the defining characteristic of Peter Lord, David Sproxton, and Nick Park‘s continuing legacy is the quality of their storytelling.
I haven’t seen the show, but I have to imagine its aesthetic is much the same as the film—namely a dialogue-free affair. It couldn’t have been easy to wrestle with the idea of releasing a major motion picture with nothing by mumbles, grunts, and bleats, but it’s definitely paid off beyond its built-in fan base’s reach. The change of pace alone sets it apart from its contemporaries by lending a vintage feel still possessed with a clarity of story for young or old to invest themselves in the titular Shaun’s (Justin Fletcher) escapades behind his Farmer’s (John Sparkes) back. Writer/directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak have to measure every expression and action perfectly for silent movie-esque conversation transcending words into the universality of body language and context.
Starting with a beautifully rendered prologue of Shaun and his buddies growing alongside the Farmer and his sheepdog Bitzer (Sparkes), we sense the comradery cultivated between them without needing awareness towards what happens in the interim. Fast-forward to today and everyone’s shown older, fatter, and balder—the jury’s out on wiser—stuck in the monotony of farm-life depicted by a montage of sound effects, alarm clocks, and shearing scissors that crescendo at break-neck speed until Shaun realizes he’s had enough. A plan is hatched to force a harmless day’s vacation wherein the Farmer is incapacitated by slumber while they bask in the glory of TV entertainment and the deliciousness of fruity, flowery drinks. Unfortunately, it’s not long after Bitzer catches on to the ruse that everything goes wrong.
Through mischievous happenstance they’re flung down the road into the Big City with no clue what to do. The Farmer’s journey was bumpy enough to earn him a case of amnesia in the hospital while poor Bitzer is denied entry to help. It’s therefore up to Shaun to rally his otherwise clueless flock of mimickers to the rescue—an adventure leading them into thrift stores, fancy restaurants, and the rough and tumble life afforded by Animal Protection Services under the care of Trumper (Omid Djalili). With the help of new friend Slip the goofy looking dog (Tim Hands), the gang must steer clear of Animal Control long enough to kidnap the Farmer from his new vocation as the world’s hottest hair stylist. His signature do? The sheep fro.
It’s a fast-paced 85-minutes of iconic British humor and pun-tastic laughs. Everything carries potential to elicit smiles whether in the foreground or back: three disgusting pigs picking their noses, an over-zealous rooster trying something fresh each morning, or an arrogantly out-of-touch celebrity (Jack Paulson) unwittingly altering the Farmer’s life. With such broad movements and infectious enthusiasm, the need to chuckle arrives even if the joke is too subtle for kids to get. Having a great message about appreciating a good life doesn’t hurt either. We may wish things were different, but it’s oftentimes exactly when the thing we think we hate is gone that we realize it’s what we need. To be angry with the Farmer for taking their wool is to forget everything he does in return.
The gags may be familiar, but they’re timeless. Shaun and the others must work together duping Trumper’s villain by dressing like humans, horses, or whatever the situation needs while chalk drawings as old-school decoys take care of the rest. They love to play on their own specie’s tropes too—possessing the innate quality of inducing sleep by hurdling is a gift they shouldn’t ignore. And it’s these kinds of on-the-nose shenanigans that endeared the film to me and will definitely give some fits. Like it or love it, though, you must admire the dedication to its own tone and aesthetic despite everyone else trying so hard to defeat the competition through homogeneity. Sometimes an ingenious anthropomorphic animal hammily besting those around him is exactly what the doctor ordered.
 ‘Shaun’ (left), ‘Slip’ (center) and ‘Bitzer’ (right) in SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE.
 ‘The Farmer’ (left) and ‘Shaun’ (right) in SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE.
 ‘Shaun’ in SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE.