Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Richard Webber, Kate Harbour, Tim Hands, Andy Nyman, Simon Greenhall, Emma Tate, Jack Paulson, Sean Connolly, Henry Burton, Dhimant Vyas, Sophie Laughton, Nia Medi James, Stanley Unwin, Nick Park
Written by: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak
Directed by: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak
MPAA Rating: PG for rude humor
Running Time: 85
Date: 08/05/2015

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Where There's a Wool, There's a Way

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Aardman's Shaun the Sheep Movie is a miraculous thing. It's an animated movie that embraces true physical humor, as the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton once did. It is, in essence, a silent movie, with no spoken words. Characters grunt and mumble and make verbal noises, and these noises often indicate intent or emotion, and there are a few pop songs, but not one actual word is spoken.

Even more amazing is the fact that it's an adaptation of a TV series in which individual Shaun cartoons run only about 7 minutes each. Adapting these tiny snippets to an 85-minute film is a difficult task, not unlike the adapting of a short "Saturday Night Live" sketch to a feature film. But Shaun the Sheep Movie is beautifully crafted, beautifully paced with a cohesive story, big laughs, logical rest breaks, and a few surprises.

In the shorts, Shaun the sheep and Bitzer the dog intermittently play practical jokes on each other and on the farmer who's in charge of them. Sometimes the pigs get involved. Sometimes good deeds are done. In this movie, Shaun decides it's time for a vacation. (The movie opens with an absolutely brilliant montage depicting the mind-numbing daily routine of the farm chores.) He and the other sheep establish an elaborate scheme to put the farmer to sleep so they can slip away. Unfortunately, the trailer where the farmer snoozes breaks loose and rolls downhill to the big city. When he emerges, he has lost his memory. Shaun, Bitzer, and the other sheep team up to find him and bring him home.

In one of the best jokes, the farmer's haphazard clothing (including the remnants of a brief hospital stay) match the chic, stylish clothing of a local hairdresser. Using his inherent shearing skills, the farmer cuts the hair of a famous person, gets a job at the salon, and becomes famous. Meanwhile, the animals befriend a helpful city dog and attempt to avoid a local animal trapper called Trumper.

The movie does stoop to some occasional bathroom jokes, but it also has plenty of more intricately designed slapstick and visual gags. In other words, it has big laughs for kids and grownups. Co-directors Mark Burton, who worked on the screenplays of Chicken Run (2000) and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), and Richard Starzak, a veteran writer/director of the "Shaun" TV show, deserve a big hand (or hoof). If not for the unparalleled genius of Pixar's Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep Movie would be the animated film of the year.

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