Get Ready, Aardman Fans, It’s SHAUN THE SHEEP!

by Elizabeth Stoddard

Shaun the Sheep Movie opens Wed., Aug. 5 at various theaters.

I’ve been waiting with bated breath this summer for the newest Aardman Animations stop-motion picture, Shaun the Sheep Movie. If you don’t follow Aardman works or have no small children who watch television, perhaps you are unfamiliar with this British export.

The character of Shaun made his first appearance in the 1995 Wallace & Gromit short, A Close Shave. In more recent years, the animated sheep has led the children’s television show, Shaun the Sheep, where he and his flock have misadventures on a farm. This movie maintains the feeling of the show, especially as both are mostly silent. People talk in grunts, animals make animal sounds, and the music in the soundtrack and score give the viewers emotional cues.

Shaun and his fellow sheep tire of their day-to-day schedule and decide they want a day off. They lull the farmer to sleep and load him in a trailer… which then rolls into the big city. The sheep and the farmer’s dog Bitzer head into town to bring him back, trying not to get caught by animal control worker Trumper (apparently voiced by actor Omid Djalili, but not enough that you’d recognize his tone). They find a new friend, a sweet snaggle-toothed stray dog, amidst their search for the farmer.

You certainly don’t have to have seen the show to appreciate Shaun the Sheep Movie; the film is basically like an hour-and-a-half episode of the program, with more background to the characters. The film opens to a bubbly pop song as we see the farmer in younger days, and baby Shaun playing with baby Bitzer. It’s all very adorable, as well as providing context for what occurs later in the film.

Most impressive about this film are the one-off jokes, the multiple sight gags that appear so quickly but — as this is stop-motion — required much thought and planning. One of the perfect hilarious touches is the pianist in a chichi restaurant deciding to play escape music as Shaun attempts to elude capture. The kids who watch will love seeing Shaun’s caper, while the adults will catch the cinematic allusions (Silence of the Lambs and Monty Python and the Holy Grail are just a couple).

The film doesn’t pander to a specific audience. After all, themes of loss, regret, and caring for loved ones in times of trouble are universal. Given the diverse peoples shown and the rare use of the English language, Shaun the Sheep Movie could have worldwide appeal. And it should, really.

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