Shaun the Sheep Movie

★★★½
Apparently, anthropomorphic barn animals are a joy for any age.
Movie Review #997

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Hollywood seems to have established a trend of multilayering animated films. Most recently, movies like “Inside Out” and “Minions” function as an escapade for kids to enjoy, on one level, and then something more sophisticated, deeper, or wittier, on another level. It’s a very honorable trend, in terms of both creativity and marketing.

Perhaps the trend doesn’t exist in the United Kingdom. British animation studio Aardman Animations goes against that American grain. That’s been previously evident in their debut film “Chicken Run” and their Wallace and Gromit shorts, as well as their Shaun the Sheep shorts, on which “Shaun the Sheep Movie” is, of course, based. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the movie functions only as a fast-paced escapade, though. If deeper meaning is what you’re looking for in a medium about farm animals who act like humans, then go read Animal Farm. Okay so maybe “Shaun the Sheep Movie” could have been a tad better if there was some “sophisticated” humor now and then, but I found myself laughing at the movie quite a bit, nonetheless.

There a refreshing quality to a movie like this, where we laugh at what the animals are doing, not what they’re saying. While sometimes we’ll hear one of them bleet or bark, Shaun the Sheep and his barn friends appear to communicate amongst one another by means of nonverbal communication. They’re essentially mimes, which is a rare quality for most comedies, but it’s very much alive and kicking in “Shaun the Sheep Movie”. Watching their intentions get lost in translation can be very funny. At one point, a dog is locked out of a building where dogs aren’t allowed, so he straddles himself on a nearby bench bench in a casual, humanlike position, hoping the owner will notice him and realize that he is “human.” That moment feels like something right out of a Far Side cartoon.

The most priceless moment in “Shaun the Sheep Movie”, however, occurs in a restaurant. You haven’t seen this sort of awkward behavior in a restaurant since “When Harry Met Sally” (except this time, it’s completely kid-appropriate). The animals are seated around a table in turtlenecks, disguising themselves as humans to avoid being captured and sent back to the barn. They don’t exactly know how to behave civilly like humans, so they observe a woman as she reads her menu and prepares to order her food. To say the least, they mistake the wrong things for polite etiquette. For instance, they observe the woman accidentally dropping one of her utensils onto the floor, so they all follow suite and simultaneously bulldoze all their silverware onto the floor.

That scene stands as one of several indicators of what a treasure “Shaun the Sheep Movie” is. This is a good-natured comedy. It’s nothing but sight gags in a typical story about barn animals, but not the kicked-in-the-nuts kind you’d find in any other PG-rated comedy. The comedy in “Shaun the Sheep Movie” is a good-natured kind. Over a quick breeze of 85 minutes, it plays out as a Three Stooges sketch would, or perhaps as one of Charlie Chaplin’s many Tramp shorts would.

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