The stop-motion animated maestros at Aardman get back to their clay animation comedy basics with “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” a dialogue-free romp that is a shear delight, shear perfection, if not quite a master-fleece.
A film of sight gags, fish-out-of-water/sheep-in-the-city jokes and other delights aimed at the very young, it revisits a character introduced in their “Wallace & Gromit” shorts, a smart and prank-prone sheep who once warranted his own TV series.
In “Sheep Movie,” Shaun and the flock are restless, bored with the endless routine of Mossy Bottom Farm. They’re forever pulling one over on the squinting (no eyes) Farmer until that day when Shaun schemes to get a “day off.” There’s an elaborate plan to fool the Farmer about what time it is (night or day), a caravan (camper trailer), sheep jumping over a fence to make him think he’s counting sheep and dreaming.
But things go too far and the Farmer gets a conk on the noggin. Kids are never too young to learn that in the movies that means “Amnesia.” The Farmer is lost, hospitalized in the Big City. Shaun, his arch nemesis Bitzer the sheep dog, and the rest of the flock set out to save him, or to be more exact, themselves. Drudge or not, the Farmer takes care of them.
They run into a stray dog, struggle to stay clear of Trumper, an animal control officer. They don disguises — Bitzer puts on surgeon’s scrubs, at one point, sheep stand on each other’s shoulders under an overcoat (Do sheep have shoulders?) — in an effort to blend in long enough to “save” The Farmer.
But The Farmer’s forgotten his old life, save for one grand life skill. He can shear. Before you can say “Paul Mitchell” or “Oribe” or “Vidal Sassoon,” The Farmer is the hair stylist to see, his sheep shearing Custom Cuts the rave of trendy London.
As with the TV series, the pacing and whimsy here is mostly aimed at the pre-verbal, or at least children who haven’t learned to read. They may not appreciate the hand-crafted British eccentricity that these films revel in. They just laugh at the sneaky duck, the opportunistic pigs and the sheep who follow Shaun like…sheep.
The worst you can say about this oh-so-British studio is that they’ve run out of new ideas. But the best you can say is that nobody makes non-verbal comedies better. The fact that they’re back to doing it with clay models (look for fingerprints) and hand-built sets is reason to celebrate.
MPAA Rating: PG for rude humor
Cast: The mumbling and giggling voices of Justin Fletcher, Kate Harbour, John Sparkes and others
Credits: Written and directed by Mark Burton, Richard Starzak, script by . A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:25