[Screen It]


(2015) (voices of Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes) (PG)

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Animated Comedy: A farm sheep decides to take the day off, but must contend with his farmer ending up in the big city suffering from amnesia.
Every day is like the last and those before that on the Mossy Bottom farm run by The Farmer (voice of JOHN SPARKES). The routine is so monotonous that Shaun the sheep (voice of JUSTIN FLETCHER) has become bored, resulting in him hatching a plan with the rest of his flock. If they can lull The Farmer to sleep by repeatedly jumping over a fence in front of his eyes, they can take the day off. They succeed, but when they put the sleeping man into a camper, his trusty sheepdog, Bitzer (voice of JOHN SPARKES), tries to intervene. As a result, the camper rolls away with no one at the helm and it ends up in the big city where The Farmer is accidentally struck on the head by a large ball.

He ends up in the hospital with amnesia, with Bitzer unable to help him since dogs aren't allowed in the building. Back at the farm, Shaun and the others realize they need The Farmer to be fed. Accordingly, Shaun sets off for the city, unaware that the rest of the flock is on the next bus after him. Once in the big city, they try to find The Farmer, unaware that he's ended up in a hair salon, with his sheep shearing talents put to unexpected use on humans. At the same time, they must contend with animal control officer Trumper (voice of OMID DJALILI) who's determined to capture them, much as he's done with other animals, including a dog named Slip (voice of TIM HANDS) who sets out to help the sheep and Bitzer reunite with The Farmer.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
While Pixar has brought lots of human characters to the forefront of animated films over the past twenty years, animal characters still likely outnumber them overall due to decades of such featured prominence. I have no idea what sort of critter got the honor of being the first to be shown in animation (most likely think it's Mickey Mouse, although I'm guessing he was probably preceded by others), but there's no questioning the plethora of species that have appeared in such flicks over the years.

That said, I'm a bit hazy on when the first animated sheep appeared in the movies or on TV. If "Shaun the Sheep Movie" proves to be popular, however, I imagine we'll be seeing more such quadrupedal, ruminant mammals in years to come. The latest pic from the folks at Aardman Animations -- who also brought us the highly entertaining "Chicken Run," "Flushed Away" and "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" -- it also arrives in the form of the decidedly old-fashioned but fairly unique stop-motion clay animation where such figures are painstakingly moved tiny bit by tiny bit and filmed frame by frame.

The film is based on the "Shaun the Sheep" television show that followed the title character's introduction in the "Wallace and Gromit" series. What's interesting this time around is that there's no actual dialogue, at least in terms of anything that can be understood beyond the intended inflections in the otherwise simple guttural sounds uttered from various characters. Not only does that make the film somewhat charming in that regard, it also forces co-writers and co-directors Richard Starzak & Mark Burton to deliver what's essentially a silent film accompanied by various sound effects, an orchestra score and a smattering of lyric-filled songs.

The story revolves around the title character (noises, rather than dialogue, provided by Justin Fletcher) who's grown tired of the daily routine on this particular Mossy Bottom farm. Much like Ferris Bueller, he simply wants a day off, and thus conspires with the rest of his flock to put The Farmer (John Sparkes) to sleep by -- natch -- repeatedly jumping over a fence in front of his soon to be glazed over eyes. They then place him in a camper, only to have that roll away when his trusty canine companion (also John Sparkes) tries to intervene.

The Farmer rolls into the city, ends up with amnesia after being accidentally bopped on the head, and Shaun and the critters back home quickly realize it's sort of hard to eat without a human to pour out their daily feed. Accordingly, Shaun travels to the big city, unknowingly followed by the rest of the flock, in hopes of finding The Farmer and returning him to the farm. And that's all while contending with an animal control officer (Omid Djalili) who gleefully collects and incarcerates strays at the city pound.

As has been the case with the rest of the offerings from Aardman, the humor is decidedly British in its approach to comedy, meaning that while there might not be huge belly laughs to be had throughout, there's nearly a non-stop train of amusing to funny bits running through the flick's entire 85-some minute runtime. Some are obvious (including the obligatory scatological humor for the young viewers amused by such material) and others are more subtle, with fans of the studio's previous works and their sense and style of humor the most likely to appreciate what's offered here.

While I don't recall laughing aloud more than just a few times, I'm fairly certain I had a constant smile on my face from start to finish, along with a continued appreciation of just how hard it is to plan and then film a stop-motion animated movie such as this. Smart, delightful, witty, charming and amusing throughout, "Shaun the Sheep Movie" is yet another winning effort from the folks at Aardman who I hope never tire of playing with and bringing small clay figures to life in entertaining flicks like this. The movie rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed August 3, 2015 / Posted August 7, 2015

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