Aug 10, 2015

[Movies] Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

I've been quite the Wallace & Gromit fan for some time now. I fell in love with the quirky humor of this clay animation series of short films. Beyond the fact that I'll always have a fondness for clay animation series, Aardman Animations has always had a flair for the sort of low-key humor that really gets me. There's an intelligence and wit to their stories that I enjoy a lot and I'm glad that that they've since expanded to feature-length films and other franchises beyond Wallace & Gromit.

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the feature debut of the characters of the TV show of the same name. I was both excited and cautious about the movie when the news came out since the TV show wasn't exactly know for riveting dialog. If anything, all the episodes have been more about little adventures portrayed as vignettes of mostly wordless action. And to create a movie of this nature seemed like a strange venture to explore.

But surprisingly, they kept true to the spirit of the show despite the longer duration of the movie format. I probably enjoyed it way more than I expected, and that says a lot about Aardman's skills in silent storytelling and visual comedy. It's just that sort of an experience.

Synopsis: Shaun the Sheep Movie is a 2015 stop-motion animated comedy movie produced by Aardman Animations and directed by Richard Starzak and Mark Burton, who also wrote the screenplay. The movie uses the same characters featured in the children's show Shaun the Sheep, which in turn is also a Wallace & Gromit spinoff series.

Things start off as normal at the Mossy Bottom Farm. Shaun the Sheep and his flock continue to play little pranks on the Farmer while trying to evade the notice and discipline of Bitzer, the farmer's dog. Shaun hatches a big scheme to use jumping sheep to send the Farmer back to sleep, thus giving them a sort of "day-off" from their regular farm life. But one thing leads to another and our sleeping farmer's trailer runs off on its own and results in the farmer having a minor accident and losing his memory.

At first three freedom offered by the farmer's disappearance is interesting, but it doesn't take them long to realize that they need him back. Thus Shaun decides to venture on his own into the big city to go find their missing farmer. But of course the rest of the flock manages to sneak into the city as well, thus further complicating things. And now they need to escape the notice of the city animal-control division while figuring out what had happened to the farmer. The farmer himself seems to be unable to remember anything and accidentally stumbles into a most unexpected new career.

Now the original Shaun the Sheep TV series has always been pretty brilliant given just how adorable Shaun is and the fact that they manage to convey some pretty brilliant comedic moments largely without dialog. And we're not just talking about sill slapstick or things of that nature. Thus the show has worked for very young audiences and yet has also endeared itself to some older fans. But my biggest worry was how they were going to translate that experience into a movie - in the past we've seen similar franchises mangled by Hollywood blockbuster aspirations and that sort of creative watering down of ideas.

Surprisingly, the movie stayed very, very true to the spirit of the show and thus largely remained a feature that did not involve significant dialog. Sure, we generally expected the sheep not to gain the magical ability to speak. But I don't think we necessarily expected even the humans to remain largely silent throughout the movie. Just look at the sequence where we find out that the Farmer has lost his memory - the doctors don't communicate this verbally, but instead we as viewers are given a glimpse of the notes on the clipboard left by doctors at the foot of his bed. That's a pretty creative way to convey a part of the story!

Of course Shaun and the rest of the sheep are as lovable as ever in this movie. The whole piece is pretty much a series of silly situations and clever sight gags, although we do have the gang pushing things a bit including posing as humans using the old "stacking several sheep on top of one another" trick. It's quite cartoonish, but it totally works for the medium and of course the characters.

I was rather surprised at the complexity of the story despite the lack of dialog to advance the plot. This is not to say that this movie was overly complicated or convoluted in any sense - I'm just impressed that we had a fair number of plot points at work. For example, you have the sheep in the city, the farmer wandering out of the hospital without his memory and to some extent the tale of the animal-control employee as well!

I guess one can trace back the Aardman gift for silent comedy with how they've handled the character of Gromit over the years. But to take things to this extent where everyone was essentially like Gromit but just as expressive really made for quite the interesting movie experience. Sure, it can feel a little slow at times and you just wish that someone would speak their mind or something. But hey, it's part of the feel of the thing.

Shaun the Sheep Movie isn't just for kids but it certainly made sure to remain totally approachable in this manner. I laud them for sticking to the creative integrity of the core concept of the franchise while making the most of having more time to tell a story. Thus the movie gets 4 silly sheep hiding in plain sight out of a possible 5.

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