Following The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (2012), Shaun the Sheep Movie - written and directed by Richard Starzak and Mark Burton - is the latest Aardman Studios production. Shaun first appeared in the Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave (1995), and got his own TV show in 2007 (which is still ongoing). This is is first feature film. Do the Aardman crew deliver once again? The answer is a resounding 'Yes!' - Find out why below.
Shaun the Sheep Movie strikingly resembles the BBC One TV show that spawned it. It's apparent that the filmmakers wanted to stay true to what makes the program special. So if you love the series, you'll love the movie; it's basically a super-sized episode. Everything is back: the theme song, all the characters, even the lack of dialogue. That's right: Shaun the Sheep Movie is a 90-minute film with no intelligible dialogue whatsoever. And incredibly, it works.
The story starts like many episodes would: tired of the everyday life at the farm, the clever Shaun wants to play a prank on the Farmer. Which he does, and everything seems to go according to his plan. But then it all goes wrong, and the Farmer gets lost in the Big City. Realizing he has made a big mistake, Shaun decides to go to the Big City and fix his blunder. He won't be alone on his mission, as the flock, Bitzer, and a new dog character called Slip join him to save the day. While they're in the Big City though, they'll have to beware the evil animal warden Trumper.
The script is a perfect mix of clever, funny and heart-warming: the plot never slows down, and you get every story point visually. This had to be tricky for Starzak and Burton, but they make it seem effortless and never fail to entertain us; you will be delighted by the number of jokes coming your direction in every sequence. The humour can be slapstick or absurd; it's not always aimed at children but is never cynical. Sometimes it hides itself in the details and is a nice reward for the more observant viewers.
But the comedy in Shaun the Sheep Movie doesn't mean that Aardman forgot to tell a story. This isn't just a succession of funny scenes; the film is also - and maybe primarily - a tale about friendship; about the extent to which a friend can/should go to to help someone he cares about, and it is beautifully told. Among other touching moments, there's a scene where Shaun and the rest of his flock sing along to cheer up baby Timmy that is pure animation magic.
The Bristol-based studio has some experience in handling non-speaking characters. You could even argue some of their best creations don't have a voice (Gromit, Bobo the monkey…), so it's no surprise that the filmmakers are directing their claymation cast with impeccable timing. The way the animators are able to convey emotions without dialogue is amazing and sometimes just a look from Shaun to Bitzer says more than a thousand words.
It should also be noted that the new characters introduced in the movie are delightful - especially the villain, Trumper, who wouldn't pale in comparison with other classic Aardman antagonists.
The decision to remain true to the TV show's spirit comes with a cost, though: with Laika currently breaking new grounds in stop-motion techniques, the look of the film may feel a bit simple. At times I wished the secondary characters were more researched and the action scenes longer. Even some of the earliest Wallace and Gromit shorts had more elaborate set-pieces than Shaun the Sheep.
The film opened in the UK on the 6th February, and is still waiting for an official US release date.