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Monday, August 3, 2015

Movie Review: #ShaunTheSheep

The delightful Shaun the Sheep also feels a bit too long.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzack's Shaun the Sheep, a group of wooly farm animals and their owner enjoy a carefree (but stilted) life of eating, being herded into pins, all while being taunted by the local gang of pigs. It wasn't always that way: Shaun and his family used to enjoy a happier existence with the Farmer, but times have changed, leading Shaun to desiring a day off. After he and the others trick Farmer into an afternoon nap, things begin to go astray, leading all of them into a high-stakes journey into a local city. There, Shaun must jolt Farmer's memory back after an accident that's left him the new king of hairstylists while keeping an animal catcher from taking the entire flock and Farmer's dog to the shelter.

Shaun the Sheep is a non-speaking movie, unless you count the grunts and gestures by the stop-motion characters to be words. That's not going to play well with young kids, even though the comedy is precise, imaginative, and mostly clean. These characters, based on Nick Park's Wallace and Gromit television series and short, have always appealed to adults and older teens, with this one feeling more like one of those episodes than a full-fledged tentpole. After awhile, the lack of any real speaking can get tiring, and the emotive Shaun's memories of Farmer as a young man stir him to get his memories back. All of that will either lead you to cheer or feel a tad of malaise. It's not that Shaun is poorly done - on the contrary, its stop-motion and humor are top notch - but the lack of dialogue really begins to drag things around the second act.

That happens as the flock searches for the amnesiac Farmer, giving way to some funny skit comedy. But not all of it works, particularly in relation to the plot as some of their antics feel more like they need something to do before ultimately finding their owner. Beyond Shaun and his cousin Timmy (who is adorable), none of Shaun's family has much personality and ultimately aren't necessary to the story. Neither does Bitzer the Dog or any of the malcontents Shaun eventually meets at the local shelter. It's really skit comedy, perhaps better suited for television.

In an age when Hollywood is starting to question the effectiveness of CGI, Shaun the Sheep arrives looking ready to lead the conversation back to practical effects. The universe Park and the directors have created is a slow, meticulous processl and to their credit you actually forget that soon after the film begins. That sort of animation has always been the strength behind Park's franchise, and here Burton and Starzack need all the emote their characters can give, from big eyes to shaking little bodies as Thumper the animal catcher descends on the farm near film's end. Combined with the idea that everyone has a pet out there to love and the wild hi-jinks of the sheep and Bitzer the Dog, audiences might actually fall in love with Shaun the Sheep's youthful message.

Shaun the Sheep is an experience that should play very well at home. But that won't be for awhile, so expect the film to do decently in theaters but fail to attract much beyond its core audience. That doesn't mean you should wait for the home release, as its delight and sheer wholesomeness might be worth your time.

Shaun the Sheep is rated PG for rude humor and has a runtime of 82 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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