In the current cinematic landscape filled with modern technology and instant gratification, there is a lost appreciation for hand-done work. Traditional animation, stop-motion, and claymation have become a dying art form with the advent of computer animation and modern tools. It’s easy to look past the old and simple in favor of the new and shiny toy, but sometimes the old and simple can show up the new and pretty with ease. That’s the beauty of something like “Shaun the Sheep.”
Since 2007 and for 130 and counting seven-minute television episodes, “Shaun the Sheep” has endeared audiences with its gorgeous animation, simple storytelling, and clever appeal. Where most other children’s shows can’t wait to scream in your face and flicker across your eyes with nauseating annoyance, “Shaun the Sheep” achieves its success with nary any dialogue or speech whatsoever and a placid pace that’s down on the farm like its characters. This August, “Shaun the Sheep” received the full-length feature film treatment from its creators at Aardman Animation (“Wallace and Gromit”) and the expanded results are wonderful and hardly disappoint.
Our title protagonist Shaun is the smallest, yet smartest sheep on Mossy Bottom Farm. He and his fellow sheep live a life of daily routine mixed with fun discovery and misadventure. The stabilizing presence to keep the sheep out of trouble is Blitzer, the loyal sheepdog with his whistle, watch, and clipboard. Blitzer and the sheep work together to keep The Farmer happy and unaware of the shenanigans that dominate the sunny rural days.
For the movie, Shaun gets tired of the repetitive routine and plots to keep The Farmer asleep by tricking him into staying asleep in his travel trailer. In hatching his plan, the travel trailer unhitches from its resting place and rolls the farmer all the way to the big city. Lost without their beloved master, Blitzer and Shaun launch separate plans to go to the big city to rescue The Farmer who wakes up with amnesia and forgets who he is and where he’s from.
Labeled “Mr. X” by the hospital, The Farmer’s muscle memory of shearing sheep leads him to being discovered as a dynamic new stylist whose shaved shapes become all the celebrity rage in town. The presence of Shaun and the gang infiltrating the city provokes the attention of Trumper, a zany animal control worker who seeks to apprehend the loose animals. The hilarity and mishaps multiply quickly from there in “Shaun the Sheep” without any loss of essence from the TV series.
Besides a fleeting moment of plumber’s crack played for laughs, “Shaun the Sheep” is squeaky clean for viewers of all ages. Expanding greatly into a broad, longer adventure from the short TV episodes and jazzed up with a little boost of extra animation effects, this movie expands the show’s universe nicely. The fish-out-of-water and scheming meddlesome humor is always cute and cheeky. The works of Aardman Animation have always had a beauty and a charm and “Shaun the Sheep” is becoming their new flagship. Compared to the loud and unimpressive junk that is shoveled on today’s kids for entertainment, “Shaun the Sheep” is vibrant, creative, and easy-going winner that really should be the standard not the exception for children’s viewing choices.
Lesson #1: The importance of a schedule— You will see a lot of real-life dichotomy in this movie’s lessons and themes. It operates in that gray area that matches our kids between conformity and creativity and shows the value of both in a balanced way. Take this lesson. Schedules and routines, though slightly restrictive, are good things. Blitzer and The Farmer’s clipboard of tasks in important in maintaining order. When the routine is broken, things can and do fall apart.
Lesson #2: Finding freedom away from routine— That said, here comes the other side of the dichotomy. Routines are fine, but they can’t encompass everything. Time should be set aside for play, choice, creativity, variance, and new experiences. As the little rabble-rouser he is, Shaun makes this happen all the time and its a helpful release for him and his peers. Even Blitzer eventually enjoys the dalliance. Independence is needed as a break from routine.
Lesson #3: The parallel to “when the cat is away, the mice will play”– When that necessary balance isn’t present between the adherence in Lesson #1 and the freedom of Lesson #2, the farmland shenanigans go too far for Shaun and company. Messing around is fun and cool, but it has its limits. In this case, Shaun and his fellow sheep step into accidents, disguises, amnesia, being hunted down, and other perils of the big city where they are out of their element. They definitely bit off more than they could chew with their latest gag.
Lesson #4: The kinship between a shepherd and his flock— At the end of the day, here’s your lasting core for “Shaun the Sheep.” No matter how much Shaun and his friends play, scheme, and plot to get a little freedom, they are dependent and connected to The Farmer and vice versa. The Farmer values his sheep and other animals as his family as a single man at home. This co-dependent relationship is endearing and the source of this whole world’s charm.