Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Movie Review: Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie
Directed by: Mark Burton & Richard Starzak.
Written by: Mark Burton & Richard Starzak.
Starring: Justin Fletcher (Shaun / Timmy), John Sparkes (The Farmer / Bitzer), Omid Djalili (Trumper), Richard Webber (Shirley), Kate Harbour (Timmy's Mum / Meryl), Tim Hands (Slip), Andy Nyman (Nuts), Simon Greenall (Twins), Emma Tate (Hazel), Jack Paulson (Celebrity with Hair Trouble), Sean Connolly (Maitre D / Golfer / Stylists / Angry Panto Horse / Hospital Characters), Henry Burton (Junior Doctor / Animal/ Containment Visitor), Dhimant Vyas (Hospital Consultant), Sophie Laughton (Animal Containment Visitor), Nia Medi James (Operatic Sheep), Stanley Unwin (Bus Station Announcer / Hospital Announcer), Nick Park (Himself).

The best work that Aardman – a British Animation studio – has ever done always has a handmade look and feel to them, quite simply because that’s what they are. The shorts and features are done using stop motion, with characters loving molded out of clay, and often you can still see the figure prints of the artists on the characters. Following many years creating great shorts, Aardman made two features – Chicken Run (2000) and Wallace and Grommit: Curse of the Wererabbit (2005) using this technique – and they remain the best feature work they have ever done. After that, their American backers wanted them to enter the computer generated animation race – and the result was two decent, but mainly forgettable, films Flushed Away (2006) and Arthur Christmas (2011) – which tried very hard to recreate Aardman’s distinctive visual look and style using computers, with mixed results. Their last film, Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012) combined the two techniques with slightly more success. Finally however, their latest – Shaun the Sheep Movie, based on their long running TV show returns them to their roots – and not coincidentally, is their best feature since Curse of the Wererabbit.

Shaun the Sheep is essentially a silent movie – there is no meaningful dialogue in the film, with the only identifiable words coming as the lyrics to a song that plays more than once during the course of the film. Otherwise, the characters – who are mostly animals – communicate with a series of animal noises, and even when the humans communicate, it’s not much better. For the most part actually, they do all their communication through body language. If this sounds complicated, it really isn’t. The plot of Shaun the Sheep movie is simple enough that more not quite 4 year old picked up almost everything immediately (all she needed help with were the few moments when information was conveyed via writing). Shaun the Sheep is actually just about a perfect movie for pre-schoolers as it has a simple storyline, isn’t overly scary, but also isn’t the headache inducing parade of non-stop color and noise that most American animated films are. It is a kinder, gentler animated movie than we’re used to seeing on the bigscreen. However, you should take that as an insult – or as a sign that the is strictly kids’ stuff. While the story line is simple enough for a preschooler, the film is also loaded with clever references for the adults in the audience – and not the kind that grow stale (like a Shrek movie) – but the kind that stick.

Shaun the Sheep is not a masterpiece by any means – it doesn’t reach quite as high as Chicken Run or Curse of the Wererabbit for instance, because its goals are much more modest. The story is simple – the sheep on a farm, led by Shaun, want a break from their routine, and conspire to get their farmer out of the way for a while. That works – too well – and he ends up in “The Big City” with amnesia, where the sheep, and a dog named Bitzer, try to track him down and bring him home, all the while dodging a cruel animal containment officer. The movie isn’t really about its story however – it’s about the various set pieces that directors Mark Burton & Richard Starzak expertly stage – non-better than a sequence inside the Animal Containment Unit, which references many prison movies, in very funny ways.

It’s a shame more parents didn’t take their kids to see the movie this past weekend. It’s a better, funnier, smarter movie than we’re used to seeing in terms of animation for children – and it’s one of those (very) rare movies that can literally be described as being “fun for all ages”. Watching children’s animated movies with my daughter is often a little bit of a chore – I do it because she loves it so much, and I enjoy watching her have fun, and I want her to love going to the movies. The movies themselves are more often than not mediocre at best. Shaun the Sheep is a movie I legitimately enjoyed right along her. Between this and Minions, I know which one I would rather watch again.

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