Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Review: "Shaun the Sheep"
The appealing thing about Aardman Animations, the gang behind "Wallace & Gromit" and other stop-motion gems, is that their films operate on a simultaneous high/low level. For the kids, there are a lot of cute animals, spirited but not violent hi jinks, and a fair amount of gastrointestinal emissions and other similar stuff aimed to delight wee ones.
(And, truthfully, adults who didn't grow up into mortal stiffs.)
But the Aardman movies also have a decent sprinkling of hip jokes and pop culture references if you're open to recognizing them -- even some gentle social commentary.
For instance, in "Shaun the Sheep," we follow a flock (gaggle? murder?) of sheep who adventure from the quiet English countryside into the big city in search of their farmer, who ended up there through a convoluted series of events initiated by sheepish folly. What they don't know is the farmer got conked on the noggin, lost his memory and escaped from the hospital, wandering around town in a gown stained with food drippings.
He stumbles into a frou-frou hair salon and is confronted by one of the snotty stylists, who's wearing an artsy shirt decorated with little random globs of color. The amnesiac agrarian is immediately taken to be one of their own.
When the farmer headlocks a celebrity client and roughly shears him down the same way he did his sheep, leaving only a poufy pillow of hair on top, he's anointed the next highfalutin master of barberism.
Children will laugh at the energy and antics, while their parents can chuckle at the wry note about our celebrity culture.
Shaun the Sheep (voice by Justin Fletcher) was a minor character in the Wallace & Gromit shows who was given his own gig. He's got a good life at Mossybottom Farm, but he's bored with the unchanging routine: wake up, get rousted by the bossy farm dog, Bitzer (John Sparkes), spend the day in the field, getting watered, fed and occasionally sheared by the farmer (also Sparkes).
So he and his fellows dream up a plan for a "day off." One thing leads to another, the farmer gets lost, and Shaun and his crew team up with Bitzer to bring him back. They're able to pass as human by dressing up in heavy surplus clothing, posing as foreign tourists.
The heavy is A. Trumper (Omid Djalili), head of the Animal Containment Unit. He carries around a nasty clamp/weapon thingy and a seriously bad attitude. He enjoys scooping up wayward critters -- his HQ is an unlikely menagerie of species -- but discourages adoption.
As with other Aardman features, it's a delight just to look at all the eye candy and realize virtually every bit of it was sculpted and moved, by hand, an infinitesimal amount for each frame of film. The people and animals have a slightly textured look to them, and the surrounding world is a delightful mix of cartoon-y and realistic.
Writer/directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak are both Aardman veterans who grasp the ethos and impish humor of the studio instinctively. My 4-year-old howled with delight. "Shaun the Sheep" isn't the best that Aardman has to offer, but it's enjoyable and wittier than first glance.