Shaun the Sheep Movie—The hero of this wonderful English stop-motion feature from Aardman Studios may literally be a sheep. But he’s not a sheep in the figurative sense. For better or worse, he isn’t one to conform, to accept his lot unquestioningly, to follow the flock.
Shaun, who debuted in the Wallace & Grommit short A Close Shave and starred in his own 2007 TV series, lives on a farm under the dominion, not quite cruel but not especially tender either, of The Farmer. Inspired by an advertisement on the side of a double-decker bus, Shaun decides he deserves a day off from being herded around the farm, so he stages a daring escape to spend a day in The Big City.
He hasn’t taken into account the effect his holiday may have on others, however. It results in accidents, homelessness and imprisonment for his flock, amnesia for The Farmer, and peril for all from a relentless animal control officer. Wild slapstick chases ensue.
The characters converse, when they do, only in indistinct jabbering and muttering and grousing. Aside from some song lyrics on the soundtrack, the only clearly enunciated word I heard was “hey!” Thus Shaun the Sheep Movie is, essentially, a silent comedy, and its star, Shaun, is a somewhat stoic, Keatonesque hero.
He isn’t a pure stone-face, however. It’s astonishing how much subtlety and nuance and depth of emotion the animators are able to bring out of the faces of these characters—which include not only the sheep and The Farmer but Bitzer, the wary sheepdog, and a large dramatis personae of supporting dogs, pigs, people and other animals. There wasn’t a moment, watching Shaun the Sheep Movie, when it occurred to me that these weren’t real creatures leading real lives somewhere. Indeed, I still refuse to believe they aren’t.