Writers/directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak are masters at storytelling—even with no dialog to speak of! Shaun the Sheep plays on the numerous connotations of sheep (being easily led, counting sheep to go to sleep, and fluffy wool, for instance) for chuckles. But the theme running through this feature is weighty, such as how boring life can be following strict schedules and staying in one’s own backyard (farm) and never venturing out. Going to the big city holds excitement, adventure, and new encounters, but with countless risks, especially for animals. Yet, the ultimate message is that such experiences change us for the better.
Through a series of unfortunate events that come about as a result of boredom, the farmer of the sheep, cow, and pigs of the story disappears into the Big City, and the sheep follow the shepherd dog there to find him. Because of how he was transported to the city, the farmer is suffering memory loss, and the dog and sheep encounter the nasty Animal Containment officer. Many trials and tribulations follow, with the farmer not recognizing his farm animals, and the animals being incarcerated. No fear, though, they are masters of disguise (“Beware a wolf in sheep’s clothing”—or sheep in human clothing, as is the case here).
I was impressed with how many very young children in the theater got the jokes in this production or asked pertinent questions about it. Yes, there was the usual pandering to young children—farts, excrement, burps, exposed backsides (once in red!)—by the filmmakers, which they always laughed at, but the children in the audience also seemed to get the sense of the story in terms of real cruelty or danger. I hope they also got the message about the natural beauty of nature and its fragility.
For the adults, there is a sequence in which the farmer becomes a popular hairdresser of a style that has gone viral on social media. The “do” is a tuft of fluffy sheep wool on top of guys’ heads. There are also puns in business signs, and a scene in the animal containment center where the animals are sprucing up their appearance when prospective adopters enter the building.
I’m amazed by every film I see from the Aardman animation studio (Chicken Little, Wallace & Gromit), and applaud this as another excellent film for children. And I hope every adult who sees it is as entertained as I was.
Don’t count sheep, fall asleep, and then miss this movie!
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland