Review: I keep my promise to 'Shaun the Sheep'
Back in 2011, I wrote my first top ten movies of the year list, where I chose Winnie the Pooh as the seventh best movie I saw that year, but I didn't see it in the theaters. Because it was Winnie the Pooh, and it was a children's movie even more so than the average animated movie featuring talking animals, and it would have been embarrassing for a late twenty-something to be caught going alone to the movie theater to watch it. Explaining that I was only watching it to review it for a furry website wouldn't have really changed that. But I wrote back in that first top ten list:
I decided to skip this movie at the theaters because, you know, it’s Winnie the Pooh. Big mistake. Next time, I’ll man up, and watch the kid’s movie.
I was right back then; it does, sometimes, take a man to review a kid's movie. That was a promise to myself that I wouldn't let embarrassment get the better of me in the future. Shaun the Sheep was the first real test of this self promise. I mean, Free Birds were a slightly different proposition; as "geek culture" becomes more and more prevalent in pop culture, to the point they are nearly synonymous, watching animated movies, even those with slightly awkward studio pedigrees, is much less of a big deal. But I was fairly certain Shaun the Sheep was meant as a pre-school level animation (I was unfair in this assessment; I was thinking of the spin-off Timmy Time, which is meant for pre-schoolers but is not the basis of this movie); but I made that promise to myself not to let pre-school prejudice get in the way.
Good call; this is a pretty good movie.
The opening of the movie introduces the main characters of the film; the Farmer, Shaun and his sheep flock friends and the Farmer's dog, Bitzer. It shows them in an idyllic past at first, where everybody is happy, then time-shifts to the present where everyone is, if not unhappy, at least incredibly bored with an endless schedule that never changes. The routine is getting to Shaun, who creates a scheme to trap the Farmer in a trailer, and then raid the house and maybe watch a movie or two for a day. Bitzer puts a stop to this, but not before the trailer accidentally rolls down the hill and heads into town, the Farmer still trapped inside, with Bitzer in hot pursuit. It ends up in the middle of a city, with the Farmer amnesiac, Bitzer lost and Shaun and the rest of the sheep now on a rescue mission to town.
In town, an animal control officer who is more than a bit obsessive with his work begins to hunt the sheep and Bitzer down, while the Farmer uses his sheep shearing skills to become a world famous barber popular with celebrities who enjoy bizarre haircuts. Thus the plot is set up, and the movie then becomes a series of set-ups and payoffs as various set pieces and sight gags ensue.
This is an Aardman Animations production, so if you're familiar with their work (and, if you're not, you really should make it a point to become familiar), you know what you're getting into. The gags come fast and furious, and many of them are much funnier than they deserve to be. A standout scene involves Bitzer attempting to infiltrate the hospital where the Farmer is staying dressed up as a surgeon. During the course of the scene, he accidentally stumbles upon a surgery about to begin, and of course is mistaken for the operating surgeon. It certainly strains credulity, but it some really funny (if surprisingly dark) stuff.
If you're wondering how a dog could be mistaken for a doctor, well, the level of anthropomorphism in this movie is ... a bit strange. For instance, none of the animals talk, usually the first good clue you're watching something worth furry attention. But then again, none of the humans talk, either, beyond some gibberish. Dialogue wise, its for all intents and purposes a silent movie. However, though Bitzer usually walks on four legs, he pretty effortlessly switches to two for his disguise. He also, inexplicably, is able to hide his dog snout simply by putting on a surgical mask. No, it doesn't make sense. However, the joke is worth it.
This is an Aardman Animations production, so if you're ... I'm repeating myself. However, my point is, you know you're going to get some fantastic stop-motion animation.
I would add the caveat it isn't quite as detailed as earlier theatrical features by Aardman; this is an adaptation of a television show, where budget and time constraints cut down on detail. But don't let that sound like I'm saying this is a lesser Aardman's production. The screen is still jam packed with detail, and the animation itself is top notch.
I'm very glad I got up the nerve to see this movie in the theater; this is the part of the review where I point out some audience reaction. That's the disappointing part; I was the only one in the theater. I was worried I would be embarrassed, but now I kind of wish someone else was there to see me bravely watching a children's movie.
Or, you know, to actually watch a very good children's movie with me.