“Shaun the Sheep Movie” is based on a TV show most Americans aren’t familiar with, whose main character was spun off from a 20-year-old animated short film. The plot is standard-issue. There isn’t even any dialogue. It’s the very definition of a tough sell.
But when you see the Aardman Animations studio logo and realize Shaun first appeared with Wallace & Gromit in the Oscar-winning “A Close Shave,” the buying decision gets a lot easier. Aardman’s clever, big-hearted sensibility is in every moment of “Shaun the Sheep Movie.”
Bored with the monotony of farm life, Shaun enlists his fellow animals in a plan to give the Farmer a day off — whether he wants one or not. Through a series of mishaps that would make Buster Keaton proud, the Farmer ends up in the middle of a bustling city, with no memory of anything except how to use a pair of shears.
Meanwhile, the animals realize how much they need him, and Shaun leads the sheep (along with loyal dog Bitzer) on a rescue mission. Not only are they searching for their human in this metropolis, they also have to dodge a dastardly animal control officer, who enjoys his job a little too much.
Although none of the characters speak, they communicate effectively with grunts and gestures, bringing “Shaun” closer to silent cinema for kids than anything since the first part of Pixar’s “WALL-E.” Sound effects are important (you can’t have fart jokes without them!), but so much of the humor comes from sight gags, you could almost turn the volume off entirely. You’d miss Ilan Eshkeri’s catchy soundtrack, though, so it’s not a recommended experiment.
Directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak (who also wrote the script) fill the screen with a level of visual detail that, when the DVD eventually comes out, will reward repeat, and possibly freeze-frame, viewing. They play around with focus and lighting as if this were a live-action film, skillfully combining computer-generated imagery with the studio’s trademark stop-motion. Little things like dirt on a windshield are rendered as painstakingly as the city skyscrapers.
There are even sneaky references to grown-up entertainment like “Breaking Bad” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” in case you were worried that only the kids would be entertained.
“Shaun the Sheep Movie” never quite reaches the heights of the Wallace & Gromit canon, but its joyous energy makes up for whatever the storyline lacks. After disappointing feature efforts like “Flushed Away” and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” it’s great to see Aardman get back to its lovable, if somewhat noncommercial, roots.
Read more of Loey Lockerby’s reviews at suchacritic.com.
‘SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE’
Rated PG for rude humor