Sean K. Cureton

Sheep Out of Water

In Movie Reviews: 2015 on September 5, 2015 at 11:42 am
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

Shaun the Sheep Movie
Directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
3 out of 4 stars

Shaun the Sheep Movie is something of an anomaly as a late summer release. Where other major motion pictures available to screen amid the dog days of summer typically feature more readily recognizable and persistent genres and sub-genres for viewers to subconsciously engage with, the latest feature length, stop-motion animated adventure comedy from the studio that brought the world such iconic characters as Wallace and Gromit in the 1990s is gleefully self-contained. Without playing into the contemporary craze for masked vigilantes or teen-dystopia, science-fiction adaptations, Aardman Animations has taken a cult-classic independent property and repackaged what was already appealing to many in a completely new and at times revelatory manner. Like Universal Pictures’ Minions, Aardman’s Shaun the Sheep is an already recognizable character pulled from an original Wallace and Gromit short film that was produced and directed by Nick Park in 1995, and has since become an established character on his own television series and an entity unto himself. Unlike the Despicable Me spin-off phenomenon, Shaun the Sheep substantiates a feature length narrative through innovative character invention and the meticulous construction of individual set pieces behind the scenes at Aardman, with Gru’s henchman meanwhile doomed to repeat a litany of one-liners, stale sight gags, and a cacophony of immature sound effects.

Pulling from an entirely cinematic tradition of visual and physical comedy on the big screen, directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak cast their anthropomorphic characters onto a canvas as big as any seen before in past stop-motion marvels from the studio. Like Aardman’s Chicken Run or Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Shaun the Sheep Movie builds action out of what at first appears to be a limited canvas before the actions undertaken within fill the landscape with color and multi-faceted personalities that are by turns heartwarming, empathetic, and hilarious. The artistry and technical design that goes into each and every scene is truly marvelous to watch, and makes for one of the most impressive animated spectacles in years. Pixar might have the upper hand when it comes to master storytelling, but Aardman takes an alternative path that reveals novelty through an understated and mundane outlook on life as the viewer knows it. Films like Inside Out are brilliantly staggering on an intellectual level, but it is only in smaller concept films like Shaun the Sheep Movie where some of the more immediate familiarities between people come out more evocatively by being so simply put.

At the heart of Burton and Starzak’s new film is the universal notion of growing up and wanting more out of life than what you already have. In the hands of a more American sensibility, such an enthusiasm for personal reinvention might be granted more economically through commercial capitalism via consumerism. In Shaun the Sheep Movie, the same dilemma is addressed in the same way to a certain extent, but what is of central importance to this film’s story is not cultural homogenization in an attempt to fit into a preexisting social mold, but the sustained and upheld family values shared at home and in one’s individual heart and soul. Several sequences in Burton and Starzak’s film have to do with advertising and celebrity, but they are never celebratory of such values. Instead, their film is one where the cult of bourgeois ephemera is largely lampooned and exposed for the self-destructing vice that it usually is, with a quiet, private life back home more conducive to values and ethics that are morally sound and existentially fulfilling.

Like the original short films made by Nick Park that helped launch the studio to worldwide acclaim and recognition, Aardman’s latest is a marvel on a small scale with plenty of heart to supplement its overt comedy theatrics. Like Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep is a character who is immediately compelling to watch not because of what he does or due to the world and narrative which he inhabits, but because he lives simply and sympathetically. Where the Minions of Minions are only ever funny in an entirely fantastic and commercially distracting way, the barnyard animals of Shaun the Sheep Movie exude warmth and compassion. Burton and Starzak appear to care deeply for their viewers, and in so doing have crafted a film that strives to speak to how we all feel, first as children and later on as adults, their family entertainment one that anyone and everyone can watch and enjoy without irony, self-deprecation, or post-modern deconstruction of individual narrative beats or comic punches. Minions may have ruled the global box office this summer, but Aardman’s animated fare is far more fulfilling, and more worthy of your attention as a viewer than most of the mainstream films being released in theaters right now.

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