The greatest crime found in art meant for children is the correlation of youth with stupidity. As one of the only art forms with creators exclusively of a different demographic than its audiences, many children’s books and movies dumb down their content under the assumption that kids just won’t get it. Aardman Animations’ brilliant, new feature, Shaun the Sheep, harbors no such delusions. It’s immensely creative, operating on levels that are appealing to people of all ages, and makes it all look easy to boot.
Just over 80 minutes long, Shaun the Sheep is a wordless, claymation film, adapted from a wildly popular children’s show. It follows Shaun, a precocious but well-intentioned sheep, who lives on the increasingly mundane Mossy Bottom Farm. Yearning for a day of spontaneity, Shaun attempts to plot a day off by convincing the farmer it’s still nighttime. His plan backfires when the camper Shaun and his fellow sheep put the farmer in, loses hold and takes off towards “the big city.” With their caretaker’s whereabouts unknown, Shaun, his herd, and the farmer’s sheepdog, Blitzer, are forced into unfamiliar territory as they search for their master. Unbeknownst to them, the camper eventually crashes, leading to the farmer’s memory loss, making their mission, all the more difficult.
Shaun the Sheep relies on children’s ability to comprehend. Without dialogue (there’s grunts and some gibberish but nothing coherent), the film adeptly navigates an emotional tale. As much of a disaster as the big city is for Shaun and his cohorts, with its over-zealous animal control officers and their difficulty to move around discreetly, he returns to Mossy Bottom, wiser and more grateful. The nuance of feelings it conjures is a subtle reminder in a time of voiceovers, telling not showing, and rehashed/rebooted stories that sometimes, less is more. It is easy to be cynical in these cinematic times but Shaun the Sheep is proof that even small charmers can sometimes make it out of the rat race.
Shaun the Sheep opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Madeline Meyer
Madeline recently graduated from Oberlin College where she studied Cinema Studies. She writes screenplays and ill-received dad jokes. She likes board games and olives.