Shaun the Sheep Movie

Grunting his way into the heart of children everywhere

Stop-motion animation has a long history as a medium for film. Once the primary method for movie monsters to careen across the silver screen, the technique has been kept alive by Aardman Animations—the British animation studio known for their television and movie franchise Wallace & Gromit.

Just when the sheep seem to have mastered a cloak-and-dagger escape, someone “baas” and nearly gives the game away.

Tradition or practicality (or both) dictates that their characters speak only in grunts and unrecognizable words, but with tone of voice, gestures, and images, they broadcast their emotions and intentions with clarity. Shaun the Sheep Movie features a Wallace & Gromit side character who gained his own television series in 2007. He’s largely unfamiliar to American audiences, and this is his first feature film.

When they were all much younger, Shaun’s farmer treated his dog and sheep like pets, playing and taking pictures together in the bright sunshine of fading memory. Now, life is a joyless schedule. Wake up, go to the pasture, leave the pasture, go to bed. Even the dog and farmer seem to have nothing in their lives but empty routine. Shaun has a precocious dream of what his life could be if he takes some initiative to carve out a little vacation for himself and his flock.

However, his clever plan to make the farmer sleep all day results in a missing farmer, and a farm gone completely haywire in his absence. Shaun sets out to rectify the problem he’s created—and leads himself and his flock into an adventure in the Big Bad City.

Much of the humor springs from the animals’ deft mix of anthropomorphic and natural behaviors. Just when the sheep seem to have mastered a cloak-and-dagger escape, someone “baas” and nearly gives the game away. Shaun is smart as any human—sometimes to his detriment—but his well-meaning cohorts don’t seem to mind their own ovine limitations. Even the Snoopy-ish dog, who reads and walks upright, can’t resist a bone.

Unfortunately, in spite of the film’s humor and heart, I had plenty of time to wonder how much longer it would run. Don’t get me wrong—I probably smiled most of the time, and one scene in particular had me laughing very hard. Still, some of the gags were played to death. Even the Rube Goldberg–like nature of the adventures sometimes ran a little too close to convenience for adult sensibilities.

But that’s perfectly okay. This is a children’s movie, lovingly crafted to charm children. Many modern kids’ movies veer so far into “funnier for adults” territory that it feels unfair. Certainly there’s something refreshing for a parent to be entertained by a movie their kid wants to watch ad nauseam. At the same time, though, some of the vaguely naughty, definitely “over their heads” references can make adults feel a little uneasy when watching a movie with a child.

Even when I was clocking the minutes until a piece of humor in Shaun the Sheep would run its course, I enjoyed a different, just as charming bit of joy: the sound of children in the theater, laughing helplessly as if the joke only got better with repetition. Sophisticated humor has its place. But so does the belly-laugh-’til-you-ache fun of childhood. Thank goodness some moviemakers aren’t afraid to go there for the sake of the kids, doing it with class and warmth—and very little potty humor! As the Brits would say, “Good show.”

Shaun the Sheep Movie is rated PG for . . . I’m not sure. The “rude” humor the MPAA cites is nothing you wouldn’t see at your average preschool. Maybe a bit intense at the end, but overall, great for all ages.