Aardman’s Shaun the Sheep has come a long way since his breakout debut in the Wallace & Gromit short film “A Close Shave,” earning his own TV series (which itself spawned a spin-off) and now his own feature film, Shaun the Sheep Movie (which seems like it’s missing a “the” somewhere). I found that the half-hour special Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas focused more on mayhem than story, padding its run time with entertaining animated nonsense but otherwise being little different from the 7-minute shorts of the TV series. However, the Shaun the Sheep Movie adds a stronger central plot to drive the movie, giving the animated mayhem a bit more purpose and tying everything together, while also engaging in a bit of origin story woolgathering.
Like the Shaun the Sheep TV series and the Farmer’s Llamas special, the Shaun the Sheep Movie centers on the title character and his pranks and antics on the farm where he lives with his flock, which is nominally managed by the nameless Farmer, but actually managed by the Farmer’s faithful dog Bitzer. The movie also follows the show and special by being driven by one of Shaun’s pranks gone awry. Shaun’s plot to get a day off from the daily grind of being a sheep on the farm is much more complex than his usual pranks, and has much worse consequences when the Farmer ends up in the Big City with a case of amnesia after a bad bump on the head. Shaun, Bitzer, and the flock will have to find the Farmer and somehow restore the status quo, while avoiding Big City’s over-enthusiastic Animal Control officer Trumper. There’s a lot of animated funny business in between involving stray animals in the Big City, the unusual day job that the Farmer gets when sheep-shearing muscle memory takes over, sheep badly disguised as people, and the big escape sequence that closes the film, all done with Aardman’s usual charm and wit. There may be a bit more humor revolving around bodily functions than normal, but there’s nothing egregiously offensive about any of it.
As per usual in all of Aardman’s offerings, the stop-motion animation is flawless, carrying a surprising amount of liveliness considering that the studio works in the most laborious, painstaking, and deliberate form of animation. As per usual with Shaun the Sheep, dialogue is eschewed entirely in favor of bleats, growls, and nonsense gibberish uttered by the movie’s human characters. This makes the movie feel more like a throwback to classic silent films, and makes the movie’s storytelling achievements that much more impressive. It’s one thing to stage a jailbreak sequence to get Shaun and Bitzer out of Trumper’s clutches, but we’re on another level when it’s pulled off entirely with pantomime and musical cues. It’s a trick that the movie pulls off over and over again, to the point where it almost stops being impressive because it happens so often. Almost.
The Shaun the Sheep Movie Blu-ray combo pack from Lionsgate has solid audio and video quality, as one would expect for a recent animated feature film. Bonuses are fairly thin and a little repetitive, unfortunately. The “Making the Shaun Movie” featurette is probably the most comprehensive, taking a brisk walk through all phases of development from crafting the idea, designing the characters, and making music. Despite the differences in titles, the other featurettes, “Meet the Characters,” “Join Shaun Behind the Scenes,” and “Meet the Crew” are all largely rehashes of material presented in that first featurette; I think someone says that Trumper is a frustrated SAS wannabe at least once in each of the featurettes. These featurettes also feel like a bunch of very short online videos stitched together into larger lumps of material. There is a gallery of the parody posters which came out the summer before the movie premiered, poking fun at the likes of Ant-Man and the latest Hunger Games movie. Finally, a DVD copy and an UltraViolet digital movie code are also included in the case.
Aardman’s Arthur Christmas and Pirates: Band of Misfits felt a lot like early Disney films, where the plot was more of a backbone that loosely tied a series of amusing vignettes together. I’d say that description even fits Aardman’s best theatrical works (Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Chicken Run), though those films do better at feeling like coherent wholes. The Shaun the Sheep Movie falls somewhere in the middle, with its stronger central plot tying its vignettes together more tightly but not quite reaching the coherence of a movie like Chicken Run. This is somewhat offset by the way the Shaun the Sheep Movie can tell its story without any coherent dialogue, working more through animated acting and music than through the bleats and gibberish of its players. It’s unfortunate that Aardman was still not able to find an American audience for its theatrical movies, but that is definitely no reflection on the quality of the Shaun the Sheep Movie.