Mossy Bottom Farm’s mischief-making big ball of wool effortlessly bounds onto the big screen in the latest, fun-packed yarn from Aardman.
The stop-motion slapstick antics of Shaun and his friends have been entertaining us in seven-minute bursts on TV since 2007. The programme’s lack of dialogue (bar the odd bleat, snort or moo) means the format has been a success abroad, too, exporting to 170 countries – including territories in the Middle East.
Here at home, the public’s affection for Shaun saw him voted the nation’s favourite BBC children’s character in a 2014 Radio Times poll.
So, with a ready-made global audience baying for more barnyard action, this full-length adventure for the gang is sure to go down (in the words of the show’s daftly catchy Vic Reeves theme tune) “a treat”.
Fans will be relieved that the characters haven’t been interfered with for their big-screen debut – there’s no CGI spritz or gimmicky 3D makeover like Postman Pat suffered in his first movie outing last year. Aardman’s signature claymation style remains, it’s just this time the story moves to new and bigger pastures.
Daily life on the farm has become a bit of a grind for Shaun, so he and the rest of the flock devise a cunning plan. Using a “counting sheep” ruse to make the Farmer fall asleep on the job, the flock ready themselves for a well-deserved day of leisure. However, the plan backfires when the caravan in which they place the Farmer to snooze peacefully ends up rolling over the hills and far away, bound for the Big City.
Things go from bad to worse when the hapless Farmer arrives in this unfriendly urban environment only to bump his head and lose his memory, prompting Bitzer the dog, Shaun and friends to mount a daring search-and-rescue mission for their beloved master.
Although the certainty of a happy reunion is never in doubt, there are plenty of japes, scrapes and rollicking chases along the way. Bitzer finds himself impersonating a hospital surgeon, only for the mask to slip when he’s distracted by a tasty-looking bone; Shaun and his four-legged friends dress up as a two-legged human family (little Timmy pretending to be a backpack is a nice touch) to evade an overzealous animal catcher; and the farmer becomes a social-media sensation after putting his shearing skills to use at a trendy hair salon (a clever Edward Scissorhands reference).
Evoking cartoonist Gary Larson’s surreal vision of the secret world of wildlife, there are also plenty of amusing asides featuring a wheeler-dealing duck, some hard-partying pigs and a sinister, Hannibal Lecter-like cat.
The barrage of sight gags almost makes you forget you’re watching an all-but silent movie. And while many of those jokes may not be particularly new (to older viewers, at least), they are timed to perfection and expressed beautifully – a furrowed plasticine brow or a roll of the eyes guaranteeing maximum laughs. No sheep pun goes unfleeced, either, and a scene featuring a Baa Baa Shop Quintet is a charming musical interlude.
Richard Starzak and Mark Burton’s film also pays its dues to another member of the Aardman family by featuring a cameo (in model form) from Nick Park, the man who first introduced audiences to Shaun in his 1995 Wallace and Gromit adventure, A Close Shave.
There’s also an affectionate nod to the late (actually very late, he died in 2002) comedian Stanley Unwin, whose indecipherable verbal blither-blather is used as tannoy announcements throughout the film.
Like Pixar studios, the Aardman brand is one you can rely on when it comes to family entertainment. With characters you want to root for and an attention to detail that demands more than one viewing, Shaun the Sheep Movie is Aardman at its most delightful, ingenious and hilarious.
Shaun the Sheep Movie is in cinemas from Friday 6 February
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