Published Nov 24, 2015The thing about a movie like Shaun the Sheep is that the primary audience is already embedded. The mischievous titular sheep and his dialogue-free shenanigans, which were created by the same team behind the modestly successful Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run, have a devoted fan base that love the dry humour, elaborately kinetic situations and Claymation aesthetic. It also doesn't hurt that the vibrant colours, perpetual action and relatively inoffensive disposition of these works lend itself to a youth audience, meaning that parents and children can enjoy it together.
In television form, Shaun the Sheep benefits from the episodic nature of the medium. The irreverent Shaun constantly finds himself in calamitous situations, whether he's ordering a pizza, helping the overweight sheep Shirley lose weight or dealing with an alien invader or a bee infestation or an elaborate scheme to distract the farmer. They're single situation events in which the characters ultimately drive the action and the resulting outcome. It's a comedy of errors that exploits the disparity of intellect between Shaun and the farmer as well as the alacrity and generally well-intentioned clumsiness of the rest of the flock. But, given that there is no dialogue and the setup typically involves a single protracted gag, how can the demands of a feature film length be met?
As outlined in the decidedly idiosyncratic "Making of" included with the Blu-ray, they decided early on to take the route that most '80s sitcoms did when making a summer hiatus movie: move the characters to a new environment. When Shaun the Sheep Movie opens, Shaun is looking for a day off from the daily grind. He's motivated, in part, by a vacation advertisement he sees on the side of a passing bus. As expected, he then engages his flock in an elaborate plan to get the farmer to fall asleep, thus allowing them entry into the house to partake in human modes of relaxation, such as television and junk food. Unfortunately, when the trailer the farmer is sleeping in gets knocked off its blocks, it rolls out of the driveway and down into the city, leaving the farmer with amnesia and no form of identification.
As is the standard for the cleverly constructed adventure, this sequence is as hilarious as it is viscerally entertaining. And, fortunately, the compounding series of situations, wherein Shaun brings his flock to the city to find the farmer — winding up in animal jail while the farmer becomes an ersatz Edward Scissorhands — are wildly inventive and maintain the overall dedication to character.
Thematically, Shaun the Sheep is a strangely Aristotelian admonition, cautioning viewers about the dangers of taking shortcuts or cheating their way out of obligations. It's sort of an odd message for a family film about a calculating sheep, but it does ultimately champion the benefits of the collaborative spirit, demonstrating value in helping others and protecting loved ones. And it's here that this exceedingly witty, montage-heavy, action-comedy succeeds.
It's true that some of the gags are well-worn — three sheep stacked with a trench coat over them posing as a flirtatious woman is very Looney Tunes — but they work within the context of a narrative that's highly propulsive. In fact, there's never a dull moment throughout Shaun the Sheep Movie, which is quite an accomplishment for what is typically single-serving entertainment.