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Monday, March 2, 2015

Shaun the Sheep

I wanted to like this one, I really did...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Based on the hit kids show, Shaun the Sheep is the latest stop-motion animated film from Aardman studios. In Shaun's big screen debut, he and his fellow animals from the farm head off into the big city after a series of unfortunate events causes the Farmer to lose his memories and has him working as a big-shot barber in the middle of the city.

What we thought

I feel like a curmudgeon of the highest order when I say that I didn't really enjoy the Shaun the Sheep movie very much. Not just because I'm a 33 year old man judging a film clearly made for quite young kids but because so much work and so much passion so obviously went into making the film that it feels churlish to point out even its most minor of flaws. Still, however much I admire the film's real achievements, I can't lie, I was pretty bored by it.

Aardman studios, along with the younger and perhaps even more impressive Laika studios, have kept stop-motion animation viable as a real alternative to the now ubiquitous CGI of most major (Western) animated movies. Not only does stop-motion have a very distinct feel from its computer-generated counterpart, the sheer time-consuming difficulty of creating an entire animated film from the intricate manipulation of the minutest of movements of carefully crafted clay figures means that these films are created with inordinate care and attention to detail. Not to say that CGI animated films are not, but we are talking about a whole different ball game here.

Shaun the Sheep (and I'm trying very, very hard to resist writing “Shaun of the Sheep” every single time I write or say that title) doesn't have the moodiness of Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the high production feel of The Pirates: In an Adventure with Scientists or the sheer “I can't believe this was all done by hand” visual wizardry of any of Laika's films, but it is, demonstrably, a film made with great care and great love.

One thing that Shaun does have over its contemporaries though, is that it is, for all intents and purposes, a silent movie – or at least a talkie without any talking. You wouldn't think so, considering how relatively large its voice-cast-list is, but there isn't a single line of intelligible dialogue in the entire film. So, never mind the fact that it's technically wonderful, beautiful even, on an animation and craft level, it also has the storytelling chops to tell an entirely comprehensible and coherent piece of silent storytelling that goes on for a whopping eighty-five minutes!

Dialogue-free animation is a staple of those wonderful short films that precede just about every major animated release these days, but there's a major difference between pulling it off for seven minutes and keeping it going for about the length of your average Woody Allen movie. It uses a surprisingly terrific soundtrack to punctuate the action and the film is filled to the gills with visual gags and smart visual cues and there isn't a single second where it's impossible to tell what's going on.

And yet and yet and yet... None of this made me particularly enjoy the film. I admire the hell out of it, make no mistake, but I genuinely had trouble staying awake through it. It's clearly not just an age thing, as loads of British critics who are at least as old as me have gone absolutely gaga for it and it does seem to be working in that market equally well for young kids and their parents. Personally though, however much I was wowed by the storytelling, I was all but completely disinterested in the actual story and I found the characters to be largely forgettable. Also, while there are some giggles to be had, the physical comedy – a type of comedy that I do adore when it's done right – didn't really do it for me this time around.


I don't know, I wish I liked it more. What I can say though is this: for once, I really do hope I get oodles upon oodles of feedback telling me how unbelievably off-the-mark I am on this one. I can't quite bring myself to watch it again, but I do genuinely hope I'm wrong about it and that it is yet another stone cold classic from Aardman animation and that I was just in totally the wrong mood when I saw it. So, dear readers, come on then: please (and I do mean this sincerely) tell me how very, very wrong I am.


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