DVD Release Date: November 24, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: August 5, 2015
Rating: PG (for rude humor)
Run Time: 85 min.
Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak
Cast: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Jack Paulson, Kate Harbour, Tim Hands, Andy Nyman
At key junctures of Shaun the Sheep, the new stop-motion production from Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park, the title character and his flock line up to jump a fence, thereby putting to sleep some unwitting human character who never sees the sheep-counting scheme coming. It's a funny gag each time it's used—perhaps a winking acknowledgement that viewers are watching a movie that's anything but sleep-inducing.
The sheep in Shaun are restless. Each day the Farmer (John Sparkes) at Mossy Bottom Farm wakes up to the rooster's crow and follows the same routine. The sheep know all too well what's coming, capped off by a shearing that robs them of any remaining dignity. They need something new, so when Shaun (Justin Fletcher) sees a passing bus advertising "a day off," he gets an idea: they'll use the counting-sheep scenario to induce the Farmer to snooze the day away so they can go play.
Things don't go exactly as planned. The Farmer ends up in a runaway camper—a sequence that goes on too long but which has an admirably sustained cartoon energy—that lands him in the hospital, where he's diagnosed with memory loss. The sheep and the Farmer's dog pursue the Farmer to the city, but before they can find him, they attract the attention of a zealous animal-control officer. Trumper (Omid Djalili) likes nothing better than throwing wayward beasts into his animal jail.
Meanwhile, the Farmer escapes the hospital and ends up having his memory jogged by a hair-cutting tool, which he mistakes for sheep shears (this is the film's comic highlight). Taking the trimmer to the head of a wealthy celebrity (Jack Paulsen), the Farmer unwittingly creates a sensation by shearing the man's head, turning the Farmer into a celebrity himself. It's up to Shaun and the other sheep to remind the Farmer of his roots and get them all back to the farm.
One of the film's big risks is telling its story without the assistance of traditional dialogue. Characters pantomime, gesture and sometimes grunt or mumble in ways that show, with various degrees of clarity, what they intend to communicate. That makes Shaun the second family film of the summer to be largely wordless, although Shaun is far superior to the meager Minions, who spoke a gibberish that was never hard to follow but which was rarely funny. Minions also had Sandra Bullock and other recognizable actors providing voices for its human characters, whereas Shaun's audience has to work throughout the film to get the gist of what its human characters want to convey. If that sounds like a drawback, fear not. It's part of the film's charm, and is no more difficult to comprehend than Minion-ese.
On top of its other merits, Shaun the Sheep may have the catchiest song of this summer's movies. Opening the film and playing again toward the end, Feels Like Summer captures the easygoing pleasure of the film, which, like the song, seems effortless in execution.
While not a breakthrough from Park or even the height of his output (remember Chicken Run?), this new film is the kind of gentle, eager-to-please winner that we don't see much these days. It's not aiming at sly sophistication but also isn't prurient or base in its humor. It's simply, sweetly entertaining—the type of film that's easy to underappreciate for all it does well.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: None; the film is dialogue free
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: A character holds an umbrella drink while watching TV, but it's not clear what's in the glass
- Sex/Nudity: Nothing beyond the top of a man's rear end sticking out from his pants; a kiss; a lobster pinches a woman's backside, and she slaps a man she believes responsible for the pinch; a man's underwear seen through tears in his pants
- Violence/Crime: Cartoon chases and some menace, including a villain who tries to pick up a shed using construction equipment so he can throw the shed, with the sheep, dog and the Farmer in it, into a quarry; a slingshot aimed at a person's rear end
Publication date: August 4, 2015