Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Shaun the Sheep Movie [2015]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (J. Hessenger) review  

Shaun the Sheep Movie [2015] (codirected and cowritten by Mark Barton and Richard Starzak of Aardman Animations [IMDb]) is a remarkable British children oriented "claymation" feature film about Shaun the Sheep (bah-ed/grunted by Justine Fletcher) and his barnyard friends (all bah-ed, grunted and quacked by various cast members), including a human Farmer credited as simply "the Farmer" (and "grunted" by John Sparkes).  For since the film was made "from Shaun the Sheep's perspective," the Farmer himself as well as all the other human characters in the story ALSO "grunt" their lines.  Hence this is a feature length film -- 85 minutes -- with no dialogue "to speak of" ;-)

I'm reminded here of a two minute "Law and Order" Adult Swim / Robot Chicken "short" [YouTube] which plays-out the entire story arc of a typical episode of the famed Law & Order television series [1990-2010] [IMDb] using nothing but "clucking chickens" (there's a victim chicken, bystander chickens, police investigator chickens, a "person of interest" chicken, prosecutor / defense attorney / judge / jury chickens, TV reporter chickens, etc ...).  I've long considered that two minute short to be absolutely brilliant and yet here the current movie extends this story-telling yarn to an 85 minute long (feature length) film.

Does it work?  Well ... ;-) ... smiling from ear-to-ear as I write this, I think that it basically does, but I'd understand that (many) people would be skeptical ;-).

So then, what's the story with regards to Shaun the Sheep?   Well, perhaps inspired in part by the "Harold the Clever Sheep"[YouTube] sketch of Monty Python's Flying Circus [1969-1974] [IMDb] fame, Shaun, also a fairly "clever sheep," finds the routine at the Farmer's farm to be dismally boring: Every morning that stupid rooster crows, then the dog starts barking, the farmer's alarm clock goes off and soon the farmer's down at the barn with the sheep and proceeds to tick off the same checklist for the day, every day.  That is, he lets the sheep out to pasture -- they graze -- and then he brings them back to the barn again to sleep at the end of the day.  It's not particularly hard work, certainly not for the sheep, but it's quite boring, or perhaps baaaah-ring.

Well, inspired by an advert that he reads on a bus passing-by saying "Take a Day Off" -- apparently though he can not understand spoken human language, Shaun can read ;-) -- Shaun puts together a rather ingenious plan (along with the other sheep) to "take a day off."  (Kind of an Animal Farm [book: 1945] / Chicken Run [2000] meets Ferris Bueller's Day Off [1986] ;-)

First they have to distract the dog.  To do so, Shaun pays off a "shady duck" from the nearby pond with a few slices of bread (amusingly, he has to haggle with the duck over the number of slices ;-).  Then the sheep have to get the Farmer to nod-off.  To do so, they run around in a quick circle behind him as he leads them to the pasture.  As the poor Farmer _counts_ them, first he's a little confused, then becomes drowsy and finally falls asleep.  The sheep then carry him (on their nice fluffy / wooly backs) to an out-of-the-way RV trailer where he could sleep the day away, while THEY (the sheep) get to "take their day off."  The pigs, watching the sheep do all this from their sty, are not amused (actually quite jealous), but they can't do anything about it ;-).

All seems to go quite well, until ... tragically, somehow the RV trailer starts moving and before any of the sheep (or the dog) could do anything about it, the RV trailer starts rolling ... toward "The Big City" (Well that's what the direction sign says anyway ;-).

The RV trailer _crashes_ then somewhere in the city.  The Farmer hits his head and temporarily forgets who he was or where he is.  And, well, come night fall ... he's not back and ... the sheep start to get hungry because ... the farmer's not there to feed them.

What now?  Well they, the sheep and the somewhat jilted / feeling betrayed-by-the-sheep dog have to go to "The Big City" to look for their master.  Much ensues ... ;-)

It makes for an amusing story perhaps teaching children the concept of "unintended consequences."  Here Shaun and his fellow sheep just wanted "a day off" and inadvertently lost (minor spoiler alert ..."at least for a while") the Farmer who took care of them.

Anyway, of course, things have to "end well" and (again minor spoiler alert) they do.  And all come to be happy on the Farm again.

Parents: I do not know if a really small kid would have the attention span to watch this movie all the way through in the theater BUT ... I would imagine that this will become a favorite HOME VIDEO for little kids in the years to come.

Good job, very good and funny job! ;-)

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