WITH THE OSCARS just around the corner and as we prepare to celebrate another season of brilliant acting and scintillating dialogue, along comes a very funny movie that manages just fine without either. In “Shaun the Sheep Movie”, the Claymation geniuses at Aardman (“Wallace and Grommet”, “Flushed Away”, “Chicken Run” etc.) have once again found the magic formula that combines great storytelling, pop culture reference points, broad slapstick comedy and extraordinary craftsmanship.
It’s a stunningly well written movie with only grunts, baas, cock-crowings, growls and sundry proxies for words to evoke an aural world that’s no doubt exactly how a sheep experiences it. The skillful storytelling of director/writers Mark Burton and Richard Starzak coaxes us into a tale that gallops along without a single false note.
From the very beginning, we’re cleverly teased into the mindset of the sheep: at ‘the farm’ we’re introduced to a world that’s safe, comfortable and boringly repetitive. And what self-respecting sheep would want too much of that? It’s no wonder that Shaun, inspired by a piece of advertising (damn advertising!), persuades his fellow sheep that they need to take a break. The flock follow his rebellious lead like, well, sheep.
And of course it all goes wrong. Before you know it, the farmer is in hospital in the big noisy city (the opposite to the quiet safe world of the countryside) suffering from amnesia. Naturally he needs to be rescued by his ever-loyal flock (who wouldn’t?). Fortunately, unlike the farmer – who’s a few bottles short of a crate – these are really smart sheep. They, along with Trumper the sheepdog, set off –natch- in a search and rescue mission. And then things really get complicated.
But not too complicated. Aardman have mastered the delicate balancing act of keeping the kids entertained and excited (enough to probably come back again and again and thereafter see it twenty more times)… all the while entertaining the adults too with its mix of sly in jokes (we meet a dog who’s really a canine version of Hannibal Lecter), visual puns and their sheer mastery of the medium.
For the medium is very much the message.
We’ve become such sophisticated movie-goers these days that when it’s done well, we can buy in to the immersive magic of the cinematic experience- say Sandra Bullock floating around in space- even when we know how it’s done (blue screen, CGI, what have you). And unless it’s badly done (some of the endless wars in “The Hobbit” with their clearly computer generated armies), the invisibility of the effects (the bear in “Paddington” for instance) becomes in itself a dimension in the thrill of the experience.
But here, not unlike those marvelous Pixar movies, the opaqueness of the technique’s the thing… it adds to the delight. For part of the pleasure of this movie lies in our appreciation of just how clever the movie making – the Claymation – is. We marvel at just how much – human – expression the team can squeeze from a lump of clay. When the farmer shears a wriggling lamb and the wool flies here and there, what could have been a pretty nondescript scene in any other format is transformed into something wondrous. You can’t help but wonder, “How did they do that? How long did it all take? (four years by the way) How extraordinary it all is!”
Go quickly, grab a child somewhere (having of course gotten written permission from the parents) and regress into the sunny delight of “Shaun the Sheep Movie” (Then treat yourself for a well done rack of lamb)
Shaun the Sheep Movie. Dir: Mark Burton and Richard Starzak. Art Department: 58 persons; animation department: 22 persons