Like his real-life counterpart, Chris, an unlucky Merino, plucky, claymated Shaun the Sheep shoots straight for the heart in his first big screen outing. Bored with his daily routine, which includes getting hauled in and out of pens and enduring the occasional shearing, Shaun concocts a plan to keep Farmer at bay while the sheep let loose for the day on Mossy Bottom Farm. What should be a relaxing afternoon frolicking in the fields or lounging in front of the telly quickly descends into a madcap adventure, however, when Farmer’s camper rolls off into The Big City.
Shaun and the rest of his flurry flock, along with dog Bitzer, give chase and try to retrieve their owner, but it’s kind of a jungle out there. Trumper, the neckless animal control officer, is determined to throw them in the pound, a sideshow of animal oddities, and they must evade him by donning human disguises. It’s easier said than done because despite their highly anthropomorphized nature, they don’t really understand all our strange human ways. More appallingly, however, Farmer loses his memory – and adopts the persona of a celebrity hairstylist – and any affection he had for the Mossy Bottom gang, throwing Shaun in particular into a bit of an existential crisis.
Fans of the TV show or Aardman productions (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Flushed Away) won’t be surprised by the amount of charm the filmmakers bring to this simple story. While the studio tends to be unambitious when it comes to plotting, they are masters at detail, animating every scene with loving attention. Despite tightly focused sets and stories, there’s so much to savor visually that I always watch a second time just to absorb each inch of each carefully crafted frame. There’s the way Farmer takes his clipboard off the barn door every morning, as he has for the last decade, to reveal a clean patch of wood. There are the mismatched garments that hang on wire racks at the charity shop where the sheep go to find disguises. There’s Timmy, the baby sheep, shivering in his mother’s arms when the dejected flock seek shelter in a junkyard.
Animated movies, even the best ones, don’t rely this heavily on the visual storytelling that Shaun does, and it’s unsurprising that the film contains no dialogue, save an occasional grunt or bleat. When Shaun sets to win his day off, he tries to bribe a duck with bread, a silent exchange that pokes fun at mob film clichés better than any dopey one-liner could. The script also doesn’t let words get in the way of emotion. Farmer is more surrogate dad than taskmaster, and the animals’ attempt to bring him back home is about more than restoring equilibrium. A scratchy and dated home movie in the opening credits establishes a real affection between the characters, so it makes sense when Bitzer and the flock rush off into the city, refusing to give up even when a horrified Farmer shoos them from the salon and leaves them crestfallen. Animal lovers will embrace this cross-species family, but I suspect many others will also fall for our furry friends.
“Feels Like Summer” by Tim Wheeler, Ilan Eshkeri, and Nick Hodgson:
“Life’s a Treat”, Rizzle Kicks remix:
Prod: Paul Kewley, Julie Lockhart
Dir: Richard Starzak, Mark Burton
Writer: Richard Starzak, Mark Burton
Cast: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili
Time: 85 min
Country: United Kingdom