Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep posterGiven their similarities, one might think that adapting a television series into a feature film would be easy; yet on many an occasion, studios tend to falter in this regard. Thankfully, that is not the case with this movie, which sees the successful silver-screen debut of TV’s most well-known sheep.

On a rural property in (presumably) England lies Mossybottom Farm, home to a flock of sheep led by the film’s eponymous bellwether, Shaun, in addition to sheepdog Bitzer and their caretaker, The Farmer – yes, that’s his name. One morning, having becoming tired of their mundane lifestyle, and their owner’s bossy ways, Shaun and chums elect to take the day off, locking The Farmer in an old caravan and making for the nearby hills.

After a fun day is had by all, the time comes to release The Farmer from his makeshift cell. In an unfortunate turn of events, the caravan he’s in rolls away, and it doesn’t come to a stop until it reaches The Big City – again, its actual name. With Bitzer having given chase, Shaun and company are left alone on Mossybottom Farm with only the Naughty Pigs – who have commandeered The Farmer’s cottage – for company.

Now possessing a guilty conscience, Shaun decides to travel into The Big City and find The Farmer, taking the bus to do so. Unbeknownst to him, Shaun’s pals have chosen to do the same, which can only cause chaos – they aren’t exactly the brightest flock. Adding to this woe is Trumper, the most dedicated, efficient animal containment expert ever seen on film, who pursues the stray sheep at every opportunity.

Shaun the Sheep Movie is a spin-off of the animated children’s series Shaun the Sheep, which itself is a spin-off of Wallace & Gromit – Shaun’s first appearance came as a character in the short film A Close Shave. The original series is known for its charm, puns, references and physical comedy, but more uniquely, it doesn’t possess any dialogue, nor narration. All communication is done through actions, gestures and sound effects – even when the human characters speak, it just sounds like gibberish.

Bravely, the producers chose to carry this approach over to Shaun’s cinematic adventure, forgoing the recent tradition of films deviating greatly from their source material. Even here, the story is told via visual cues, and the only legible language is that which appears on signage. Also carried over is the series’ stop-motion animation, an intricate artform that is rarely seen in the cinema these days, and far more charming than its contemporaries.

Shaun the Sheep Movie is also very funny film, with a better understanding of slapstick than just about every Hollywood comedy produced in the past decade. When most films utilise slapstick humour, they tend to possess gross-out gags and other such juvenile humour; here, slapstick is not a low-brow gag, but a means to deliver perfectly-timed comedy. Hence, the feature had this reviewer laughing harder than any other picture released in 2015.

Another grand aspect of Shaun the Sheep Movie is the left-field, yet clever third act – think along the lines of the model train chase in The Wrong Trousers. Just as with the Wallace & Gromit shorts, the climax goes above and beyond what anybody would anticipate the ending of the conflict to be, offering only tiny clues as to the eventual outcome. Although smart, some might find the finale a bit too over-the-top, and others still might find it too dark a turn for their young-uns.

One more problem present in the film is the pop soundtrack. More than any other, this element feels as though its pandering to the non-fans of Shaun the Sheep who exist on a heavy diet of sub-par Hollywood animation. The obvious exceptions to this criticism are Tim Wheeler’s recurring song “Feels Like Summer” and the original theme to the television series, which is once again sung by Vic Reeves.

Shaun the Sheep Movie is a shining example of how a television-to-film adaptation can be done correctly, taking the best elements of the source material and showcasing them to a new audience. Moreover, it shows that family-friendly slapstick, and stop-motion animation, are far from dying artforms.

4 stars

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