WRITTEN REVIEW – Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

Shaun the Sheep Movie
Directed by: Richard Starzak & Mark Burton
Written by: Richard Starzak & Mark Burton
Starring: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes & Omid Djalili
Music: Ilan Eshkeri
Certificate: U
Release Date: February 6th 2015

On behalf of non-UK audiences, I would like to apologise on behalf of my country’s film industry if you happened to be exposed to terrible film adaptations of questionable UK television shows. In recent years we’ve had the dreadful ‘Keith Lemon: The Film‘, ‘The Harry Hill Movie‘ and ‘Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie‘. We even had ‘One Chance‘ which was essentially an advert for ‘Britain’s Got Talent‘ so I apologise for that as well. However, not all adaptations have been bad with ‘The Inbetweeners Movie‘, its sequel and ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa‘ being generally well received.

Now we have a feature film adaptation of the hit CBBC show ‘Shaun the Sheep‘ which is spun off from the famous Aardman Wallace and Gromit shorts. The show has been a major hit worldwide thanks to its simplistic stories that rely on slapstick with zero dialogue, thus avoiding language barriers. But can that format work on the big-screen?

Of course it can. This is Aardman we’re talking about here.
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Shaun the Sheep (Fletcher) lives on a farm with his friends which is owned by a farmer and his faithful dog; Blitzer (both voiced by Sparkes). But Shaun is getting bored of the same old routine, day in and day out. When his plan to give his friends the day off goes wrong, he accidentally sends the Farmer to “The Big City” leaving Shaun and his friends to rescue him before the farm goes to ruin. However, as sheep aren’t welcome in the Big City, the animals are being pursued by Animal Control (Djalili) who they must evade while also saving the Farmer who has suffered amnesia.

It’s a relatively simple set-up which goes in more interesting directions (for a children’s film) but that’s actually a blessing for ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie‘. With recent children’s feature film adaptations such as ‘Top Cat: The Movie‘ and ‘Postman Pat: The Movie‘ there’s been a tendency towards making the main characters get into world-changing situations (in both of those examples, Top Cat and Postman Pat have to fight robot doppelgängers in order to save the world…no joke). But in doing so they lose the inherent charm of those properties. With Aardman in charge of making a feature film of their own beloved series, that charm is very much in tact.
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What’s amazing is that ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie‘ is in the same vein as the stop-motion animated shorts in that there’s no dialogue. Not a single intelligible line of dialogue is spoken in the movie.

It’s 2015 and a major animation studio had the guts to release a feature length silent film intended for children. That’s insane.

That demonstrates an insane amount of faith in its younger viewers’ intelligence and their patience which is not only rare, but admirable. ‘Shaun the Sheep‘ movie does a great job at conveying its narrative, its characters and their emotions without any dialogue through clever direction and well animated leads. Aardman are the masters of stop-motion and their decades of experience shows here. There’s nothing quite as zany as ‘The Pirates!: In An Adventure With Scientists‘, ‘Arthur Christmas‘ or ‘Flushed Away‘, but it’s still very well put together. Because most of the movie takes place in the Big City, it gives Aardman the opportunity to present detailed backgrounds and character designs which have become a staple of the company in recent years. The streets and shops are well assembled and it’s fun to look in the background and see the diversity of the Big City’s citizens (obviously London).
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Despite being silent characters, the farm animals display a lot of personality and it’s easy to get attached to them. Also, don’t worry, you don’t need to be familiar with the TV show to know who these sheep are. Not just because directors/writers Richard Starzak and Mark Burton do a great job at demonstrating their quirks efficiently through action and facial expressions but because the film’s opening credits chronicle the character’s relationship with the farmer as babies. There’s a genuine connection between these animals and their faithful farmer and that relationship actually pays off in a great way towards the end.

Oh, and parents. Quick warning. Your children’s new favourite character in the whole wide world is called Timmy. He’s the baby sheep. And he’s friggin’ adorable.
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There’s a lot of great silent humour here as well as an oddly emotionally engaging story. ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie‘ deserves credit for actually finding a way to make toilet humour funny as well as relying on clever sight-gags that frequently pay off. There are homages to other films such as ‘Silence of the Lambs‘ and even what I think was a reference to ‘Taxi Driver‘, but not everything revolves around pop-culture references but ACTUAL cultural references. There are some funny sight-gags about internet load times, photoshop being used in marketing, celebrity culture, social media, but none of it is done in an obnoxious way. Aardman have there finger on the pulse of modern culture, but they’re not vampiric in their attitudes towards it to the extent that they almost kill the host like other 21st century animated films like ‘Shrek the Third‘ or ‘Shark Tale‘.

Sorry, I’m reviewing a children’s movie. That was oddly graphic.

There are memorable side-characters such as the Animal Control antagonist who even has his own motivation expressed through zero dialogue – he wants to be a badass authoritative figure and earn the respect of the citizens of the Big City. All of that is expressed in just a few seconds of visual story-telling with zero dialogue.
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In terms of the contents of the story or the jokes, ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie‘ isn’t breaking any new ground. There are disguise sequences where the sheep dress up as humans, there’s misunderstandings in a cafe, mistaken identities etc. But it’s done efficiently and with conviction. Same with the animation. No there aren’t any wacky chases in the vein of the train sequence from ‘Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers‘ or the boat chase in ‘Flushed Away‘ or the bathtub scene in ‘The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists‘, but it’s very polished and very charming.
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And that sums up ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie‘. It’s not life-changing, it’s not going to blow you away and it’s not going to win any Oscars, but it’s utterly charming, very funny and will definitely provoke some smiles. It’s modestly told with no dialogue and a brief run-time (85 minutes) and fans of the TV show will find lots to enjoy here. This may not be the best thing to come out of Aardman Animation as movies like ‘Chicken Run‘ or ‘Arthur Christmas‘ have more emotional heft as well as more interesting stories, but audience members of all ages will easily find Shaun’s first big-screen debut to be smart, well-crafted and a…shear delight.

I almost went through this entire review without making a sheep pun and I made it up until that last sentence. That took some fortitude.

I give ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie‘ 4 stars out of 5.


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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews

Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 11th Feb 15

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