Sundance 2015 Review: SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE Is Flocking Marvelous
Aardman Studios return to the big screen in cracking form with another rip-roaring roller coaster of action, smart humour and lovable characters. Shaun The Sheep Movie promises to delight fans of all ages, and long-time aficionados of the studio's signature claymation style can rest assured they have not lost their magic touch.
Originally introduced in Nick Park's third Wallace And Gromit short, A Close Shave, Shaun the sheep subsequently scored his own television series, which ran for 130 seven-minute episodes. In his feature film debut, Shaun and the rest of his flock must team up with Bitzer the sheepdog to rescue The Farmer from The Big City, when a harmless prank goes disastrously wrong.
When The Farmer wakes up in hospital, unaware that a runaway caravan has swept him down the hill from Mossybottom Farm to the sprawling metropolis below, he is suffering from amnesia. On leaving hospital, he stumbles past a hair salon, where subconscious memories of sheep-shearing see him inadvertently reinvent himself as Mr. X - stylist to the stars. Meanwhile, Shaun and Bitzer attract the unwanted attention of a pest controller, who pursues them around the city, ultimately incarcerating them in his prison-like animal shelter.
Unlike Wallace And Gromit or the rest of Aardman's previous output (which includes 2012's The Pirates! and the similarly farm-based Chicken Run), the somewhat clumsily-titled Shaun The Sheep Movie contains no dialogue whatsoever. Human characters speak in an accented nonsense tongue, while the animals converse in a combination of gestures, noises and anthropomorphic behaviour, from which the film draws much of its humour.
Aardman's ubiquitous funny bone is working overtime here, with a winning blend of clever wordplay, physical comedy, pop culture references and classic British toilet humour. The film is equally comfortable referencing George Orwell, Scorsese's Taxi Driver, or simply throwing its central villain into a pile of steaming manure. Movie gags come thick and fast, but the characters - in particular Shaun, Bitzer and The Farmer - are drawn strongly enough to garner plenty of laughs from their own behaviour and predicaments.
Written and directed by Richard Starzack and longtime Aardman contributor Mark Burton, Shaun the Sheep Movie feels quintessentially "Aardman" from its opening montage of life on the farm, to its end-credits homage to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Nick Park and Peter Lord serve as executive producers on the project, but Shaun is in safe hands here, thanks to a whip-smart script, breathless pacing and an assured confidence by all concerned.
Inevitably a few jokes along the way revisit classic gags we have seen before in the Wallace And Gromit films, albeit given a new, larger spin. The film also manages to wring genuine laughs from such comedic staples as two sheep stacked on top of each other under a long coat passing themselves off as a housewife, or the notion that watching sheep jump over a gate will immediately send people to sleep. There is also a fantastic nod to some of Aardman's own merchandise, when one character disguises itself as a...well you'll just have to see.
Shaun the Sheep Movie proves that Aardman Studios are still capable of delivering top drawer entertainment, especially when they eschew digital animation for grassroots model work. The film captures a nuanced world perspective that is quintessentially English, yet simultaneously universal - helped no end by the lack of dialogue throughout. Praise should also be given to the unforced diversity of the film, with male and female characters of myriad different creeds and colours appearing throughout, without resorting to lazy stereotypes.
The result is a hilarious, brisk and gag-filled 85 minutes that never lets up. It displays a level of intelligence, self-awareness and assured technique behind its brilliant artistry and white knuckle pacing that does the Aardman brand proud. Shaun The Sheep Movie is an absolute delight.
Reviewed from a preview screening in Hong Kong. Shaun The Sheep Movie has its world premiere on 24 January at the Sundance Film Festival.
Shaun the Sheep Movie
- Mark Burton
- Richard Starzak
- Mark Burton
- Richard Starzak
- Nick Park (characters created by)
- Justin Fletcher
- John Sparkes
- Omid Djalili
- Richard Webber