With the voices of Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Richard Webber, Kate Harbour. Written and directed by Mark Burton, Richard Starzak. Rated PG for rude humor. 85 minutes.
In spite of the awkward title–it needs an extra “the” in there some place–SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE is the sort of delightful whimsy we’ve come to expect from Aardman Animation, who did “Chicken Run” and the hilarious off-kilter (and Oscar winning) “Wallace and Gromit” films. After a number of “Shaun the Sheep” shorts, they’ve decided he was ready for the big screen treatment. People looking for family entertainment that the whole family actually can enjoy will want to put this one on their list.
Unlike the other Aardman films, there’s no dialogue. Even the human characters speak in grunts. This is more of a silent comedy than, say, “Minions” where their gibberish starts to make a kind of sense.
Shaun and the other sheep live with a character identified only as “the Farmer,” who has raised him from lambhood. At the start of the story, all of the characters are in a rut, going through the same routines they’ve been doing for years. One day Shaun sees an advertisement suggesting that what they all need is a day off. The mastermind of the flock, Shaun figures out how to get the Farmer out of the way so they can take a break. Then things go wrong.
Much of the film takes place in the city, where the sheep have to disguise themselves as humans to avoid being captured by a manic animal control officer. Can sheep walk around on their hind legs and escape detection in a restaurant–where one of them starts to eat the menu? Only in the loopy world created here, and that works out just fine.
The humor works at a variety of levels, from the sheep imitating human burping (which should make the four-year-olds giggle) to the amnesiac farmer becoming a famous hairstylist by applying his sheep-shearing skills to the customers. There’s even a bit of spoofing of a famous thriller (“Silence of the Lambs,” of course) that should get laughs from the adults without the little ones even being aware of it.
As with most of the other Aardman films, “Shaun” is done in stop motion. (The 2006 “Flushed Away” was their attempt to go the computer animated route.) That adds to the unique feel of the film. As delightful as this summer’s animated offerings of “Inside Out” and “Minions” have been, the computer animation that once amazed us is now the unexceptional norm. The clay modelled characters here are quite different, managing to be quite expressive and individual, but without the digitized slickness.
At a tight 85 minutes, it’s worth noting that those looking for little gags after the movie will want to remain in the theater until the houselights come up. No, Shaun doesn’t enter the Marvel Universe, but there are a few final chuckles. “Shaun the Sheep Movie” proves to be a highly amusing late summer diversion.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.