Somebody once told me they didn’t like animated films because they were “for kids” – and I have never been more disturbed by a statement in my life. In one statement, it is possible for someone to completely deride the efforts and achievements of people who create something out of absolutely nothing. There are certainly some terrible animated films – just like there are terrible live-action films. However, when an animated film works well, it is an absolute masterpiece and the filmmakers that achieved it should be celebrated. One such film that is an absolute triumph, and one that I didn’t expect to ever watch, is Shaun the Sheep Movie, which is certainly one of the funniest films in an extraordinarily long time.
Animation (particularly Western animated films) seems to be dominated by the Holy Trinity of animated film studios – Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks, and between the three, there is a constant grappling to determine which is the ultimate arbiter of great animation. Of course, in terms of non-Western animation, Japan’s Studio Ghibli is far and above the best of the bunch, mainly because of how extraordinary their films are, and how absolutely innovative and brilliant the minds of the animators there are. This review is not about a Studio Ghibli film, but rather about a film from a studio that I feel is one the exact same level of Studio Ghibli in terms of quality and sheer brilliance – Aardman Animations. I have a special connection to Aardman Animations, as do many people, mainly from the iconic Wallace and Gromit shorts that aired in my childhood. Of course, a few feature-length films have been made, and films such as Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Arthur Christmas. Part of the charm of Aardman Animations is the stop-motion, claymation method of animating their films, which brings about some truly charming and original work, and which requires extraordinary talent to accomplish. Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest offering from Aardman Animations, and the most recent in the studio’s line of brilliant stop-motion animated feature films.
Now when we consider modern acclaimed animated films, we normally think of the smart and edgy humour that is found in Pixar, or the emotionally resonant stories of Disney, and both show remarkable attention to dialogue and the spoken narrative. I don’t mean to demean these films at all (in fact, Pixar films are some of the most quotable films in history), but they are a far-cry from Shaun the Sheep Movie, which does not have a line of spoken dialogue in it, but rather makes use of wordless mumbles and animal sounds to tell the story. This does sound slightly dreadful – but the audience will very soon adapt to it, and we soon learn that sometimes words don’t mean that much to telling the story, and Aardman Animations, along with co-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, are able to tell a truly wonderful story with an almost complete absence of coherent words, which is truly indicative of the talent the artists at the studio have, and if there was any reason to doubt that this film was far more than a children’s film, this might just be it, and just because these characters are aimed at children, they are far from being exclusively for children. If you need another reason for the authentic effort put into this film, consider that a team of several animators worked on this film, each animating only about two seconds of this film per day, thus the film took six years to make. That kind of effort deserves the acclaim that this film is receiving alone.
Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd were all iconic comedic actors, and are truly beloved to this very day – yet in the peaks of their careers, they were all in slapstick comedy films that had also had nearly no dialogue spoken throughout it (but to be fair, their films were made in a time when dialogue in a film was not really an option), but they used their body language and gestures, along with their charm, to entertain and tell a story (albeit ridiculous, far-fetched but absolutely hilarious stories) – and Shaun the Sheep Movie continues that tradition of slapstick comedies, where the story is told through hilarious situations and pitfalls, along with visual humour, which is a tradition that modern cinema is constantly threatening to lose. Shaun the Sheep Movie is able to capture the charm and humour of the hilarious hijinks that characterized the greatest slapstick comedies of all time. I am certainly not implying that Shaun the Sheep Movie is even close to being on the same level as classic slapstick comedies, but it is most certainly a film that keeps the spirit of those films alive.
Shaun the Sheep Movie is an extraordinarily cute film that is the ultimate film for both young and old. It is never too smart for its own good, nor is it dumb enough to be boring. Rather, it is an artistically challenging and emotionally resonant animated slapstick comedy that everyone will love. Even the most hardened cynic will find it difficult to not adore this film and to agree that it is wonderfully sweet and endearing, and be absolutely delighted by it. It is a wonderful and delightful film, and probably the best animated film of the year!