Directors: Mark Burton and Richard Starkaz
Starring (voices): Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili
Running time: 85 minutes
The CBBC show Shaun the Sheep, with no dialogue beyond grunts and bleats, has been an easy sell to TV broadcasters in over 140 countries, so it was no surprise when Aardman Animation announced that the characters would be making their big-screen debut.
Beyond the rather clunky title, Shaun the Sheep Movie maintains the basic concepts of the TV show – there’s still no dialogue – and it further explores the quirky fictional world with a trip to the ‘Big City’. But the difficulties of extending a seven-minute television programme to a ninety-minute feature film does mean that one or two moments feel like a procession of set pieces, instead of part of a cohesive story.
The plot revolves around the animals inadvertently sending the Farmer into the city and their subsequent attempts to rescue him. This structure allows for several linked sketches, the two highlights being a hilariously disastrous trip to a restaurant (where they disguise themselves as humans) and Bitzer the dog being mistaken for a doctor about to undertake an operation.
Aardman – and the film’s writer-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak – play it pretty safe with the screenplay, which isn’t meant in a derogatory sense. They take a concept that works and stick to it. It has nearly everything you would expect from a film version of the show: stupid humans, animal-based hijinks, chases, mistaken identities and even a rather sweet love story. It’s this simplicity that makes the film so successful. Although clearly not a piece of sophisticated drama, the construction of these moments is simply perfection; each piece gently escalates from a fairly ordinary situation into chaos in the style of traditional theatrical farces, and it works brilliantly as a simple, uncomplicated comedy with universal appeal.
As with most Aardman productions, the film’s defining aspect is stop-motion animation. Although not as pristine as their last film, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, the roughness of the styling adds to its charm. Seeing the fingerprints of the animators on the characters creates a greater appreciation of the artistry that has gone into making the film and leaves you in no doubt that few computers have gone near the footage.
Shaun the Sheep the Movie is an uncomplicated delight. The detail that has gone into its production is astonishing, and it’s certainly the funniest film of the year so far. It has all the hallmarks of another Aardman classic that will be wheeled out every Christmas for our viewing pleasure.