Shaun the Sheep Movie is the anti-Minions in every possible way. For starters, it’s funny, clever, and well written. Whereas the ubiquitous Minions thumps you over the head with its non-stop ADHD antics, Shaun utilizes a simple story, well told while working in clever gags, whimsical tangents, and hilarious callbacks. Yes, I dislike the film Minions immensely, but that’s because it’s destined to make a gazillion dollars and spawn endless, mindless sequels all based on being the lowest common denominator of “funny.” Give me a Shaun action-figure tie-in over Minions Tic-Tacs or Icees any day. But let’s not spend our time player hating. Let’s talk about the very fine Shaun the Sheep Movie.
Brought to us by Aardman Studios, the geniuses behind Wallace and Gromit, Shaun is a feature-length version of the Shaun the Sheep television program, which is (apparently) big in Britain. As with all Aardman creations, Shaun features claymation that looks stylistically similar to Wallace and Gromit — odd-looking characters with googly eyes who really don’t talk much. In fact, one thing that really impressed me about Shaun is that there’s virtually no dialogue. Aside from some grunts and questioning “hmms,” the film is basically told through action and music, which gives the movie a kind of classic silent film comedy quality. Many of the scenes reminded me of the best of Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd shorts and films. This is a good thing.
The premise for Shaun is pretty straightforward. After living a life of boring routine on the farm, Shaun (Justin Fletcher), the alpha male sheep in his flock, decides he and his crew could use a day off. With the help of a local mallard duck, a plot is devised that will distract the loyal farm dog, Bitzer (John Sparkes), long enough to inconvenience the farmer (also “voiced” by John Sparkes) so the sheep can luxuriate for a day. And the plan works until the wheels literally fall off the charade, sending the farmer into town where he bumps his head and gets amnesia.
If there’s one thing I didn’t like about the film, it’s the almost subversive angle that you really shouldn’t ever do anything to try and improve your station in life or you might die. Yes, I’m probably reading too much into it, and maybe harsh propaganda that will scare kids into not sneaking around is good, but as soon as the farmer is off the farm, the dog also leaves to find him, and all the animals are left to fend for themselves. This works out great for the pigs (real assholes, I tell ya) who take up residence in the house, eating any and every thing they can find. But the sheep soon start getting hungry with no one to feed them, which forces Shaun to decide that he needs to go get the farmer and bring him home before they all die of starvation.
From there the film gets wildly creative as Shaun’s fellow flockmates appear in “the Big City” to help find the farmer. If I tried to explain the action from here, it would not only be a spoiler but also seem like a disjointed mess, something a child might come up with while telling a story. Yet in the hands of the clever people at Aardman, Shaun somehow manages to work perfectly. This is a wonderful film for the whole family with enough inside humor for grown-ups and simple gags kids will enjoy. While a bummer that Shaun the Sheep Movie won’t even make a quarter of the money Minions will, I feel somewhat better about the state of kids entertainment having seen it. You should check it out as well to help scrub the memory of the latter from your mind.