Shaun the Sheep has gone from a sheepish supporting player to wild and woolly movie star. While his acting might try to pull the wool over our eyes, his work is a flocking good time.
The animated character was introduced in 1995 in the Nick Park “Wallace & Gromit” stop-action short film, “A Close Shave.” Shaun was so popular, he became the star of his own TV show in 2007. Now, he’s starring in his feature film “Shaun the Sheep Movie” from co-writers/co-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak.
The pair have sent Shaun and the rest of the flock on an adventure — or misadventure — to The Big City. They make the perilous journey to find The Farmer who is wandering the streets with memory loss, the result of Shaun wanting to take a day off from sheeping. It takes some help from a local canine and some sheep ingenuity to save the day.
What would have seemed to be an inherently overwhelming problem turned out to be the main reason this animated film is so universally funny. In the “Wallace & Gromit” offerings, the animators could rely on Wallace’s dialogue when the plot needed a bit of prodding. “Shaun the Sheep” has no vocal crutches. Except for some grunts and groans provided by a stable of voice talents, the movie has no form of verbal communication, which forced the animators to use a modified version of mime to get across the key plot points.
This might sound annoying, but it actually creates great visual comedy. There’s a staring dog in a kennel that could be the star of the next animated movie.
It’s also a brilliant move by the directors. “Shaun the Sheep Movie” can be shown to any age group or nationality without having to make any changes. It’s a very basic brand of humor — done so well it seems special.
What makes the lack of dialogue acceptable are the great attention to detail and wonderful sense of comic timing by the army of animators who created this vibrant world. This combination keeps the movie generally moving at a smooth clip in a world that is rich in colors, textures and tones.
The co-directors manage to put just the right amount of time into each joke, despite a scene taking weeks to film because of the labor-intensive stop-motion technique used to create each frame of film. Even being a single beat off can kill a joke. These animators put vast amounts of time putting together a sequence and nailed the timing perfectly.
“Shaun the Sheep Movie” doesn’t always move at a fast pace. When it does slow a bit, it’s an opportunity to more fully appreciate the artistry of the production. The details that are put into each scene are so beautifully crafted it’s a plus when each scene can be more fully appreciated.
This is most noticeable in the city scenes, a stunning backdrop from the detailed signs to the wisps of sheep’s wool left behind that become a clue for the animal control agent whose the villain of the story. This is a familiar villain, but one who serves the story well enough.
“Shaun the Sheep Movie” proves silence can be golden if the story is laced with enough solid jokes and presented with a flock of clever characters. The beautiful craftsmanship of this film speaks for itself.