Shaun the Sheep Movie takes the popular Aardman character to the big screen. It begins with a montage of the routine over at the farm, which follows a pretty rigid schedule. Shaun, fed up with doing the same thing every day, hatches a plan to give him and friends a day off. But the plan goes awry, and the farmer ends up riding a trailer all the way to the big city, where he wakes up with no memory of who he is or where he came from. With things falling apart at the farm, Shaun and his flock venture into the big city to find the farmer. Along the way, they contend with an animal control agent who takes a little too much pleasure in his work.
If one were unfamiliar with the property, it would probably be helpful to know that there is absolutely no dialogue in the entire film. The animals make all the appropriate sounds, and humans make do with sounds that vaguely resemble conversation. But this is not a problem at all. It only brings the sharp, beautiful stop-motion animation into clearer focus. The folks over at Aardman clearly don’t need words to be wonderful. Their animation does all the speaking for them.
It is actually pretty amazing just how much is conveyed through the animation alone. These characters are beautifully expressive, owing much to the elegant simplicity of their designs. The simple variation between the sheep, for example, is enough to tell us about their difference in personality and intellectual capacity. The film even manages to build a genuinely affecting emotional arc for its main character. Through its images, in conjunction with clever sound design, the film is able to tell us a story about regret and loneliness that builds to the joy of an eventual reunion.
And there’s so much more to it than what the characters are doing. The film fills its frames with visual jokes, little Easter eggs that one might miss on first viewing. Beyond the story, the movie builds this ridiculous conception of life in the big city, portraying a culture obsessed with trends and the mystique of weirdoes. It’s the little details here and there that really make this film. It never wastes the chance to add more humor to an already funny situation.
It bears repeating that the animation is beautiful. One cannot really heap on enough praise for the work that Aardman has been doing in the field of stop motion animation. What’s most impressive here is the scale. One should pay attention to how the camera moves, how it feels completely natural. It is difficult enough to animate these characters; to do it while still fully harnessing the visual vocabulary of film is a mind-boggling feat. There are live action films out there that aren’t able to use the camera as deftly as this movie.
Shaun the Sheep Movie doesn’t really reach the narrative depths of other animated films, but one must take into considerations the limitations it set for itself. It tells this story without the benefit of words, relying solely on the power of animation to bring its narrative to life. And it is perfectly charming and funny and affecting all the same. It moves past the specificity of words and finds something that is truly universally appealing.