Shaun the Sheep Movie movie full length review - the word 'charming' just scratches the surface to describe this
The people at Aardman really love film comedy, but also, most crucially, visual storytelling.
This isn't news, at least if one has seen the Wallace & Gromit shorts (or the feature, Curse of the Were-Rabbit), or Chicken Run (I've neglected to see Flushed Away and the Pirates movie). But in Shaun the Sheep, a movie that is apparently from a TV show and also from side characters that have been in their shorts over the years, the studio really takes a risk and it pays off so magnificently. This is a movie where there is not one recognizable word of dialog spoken by a character on screen; while there are some songs sprinkled about on the soundtrack, it's not the same thing as characters - human or otherwise - delivering any kind of information or character bits to the audience. If you took out the soundtrack completely, or laid in one of those classical-style piano or orchestral tracks, this would work in the silent era.
This isn't to scare off parents, or the kids reading this, from making a day or night of checking this movie out. The story is basic but solid enough - Shaun the Sheep, among the rest of the sheep that are cared for under a farmer, decide to break way and go (by accident, at first) to the city and go around and have some adventures. The farmer gets hit on the head and loses his memory (whoops), and becomes a barber (makes sense, right, already a master at cutting the sheep's wool, might as well do a number on trendy city-folk for social media). Meanwhile, the villain, an Animal Control officer, keeps trying to get the sheep and their dog and other animals in the city under lock-down.
The story does count, but what makes this movie so wonderful and (corny, but screw it, I'll say it) magical, are the comedy sequences, the timing and the warmth generated by the characters. This is full of set pieces that are genuine and innocent enough, with some occasional dirty bits or innuendo but all in good fun (ie the villain trying to get out of the hole at the 'end' of a horse costume being operated by the sheep). It works since we like these sheep from the get-go and yet there's a great sense of mischief and playfulness about them - and going from a farm into the city makes for plenty of opportunity for mishaps and other goings-on; one such scene in a restaurant (all the sheep save for the little cute baby one covered up in coats and hats), with its beats every moment spot on, is one such example.
The animation, as usual, is stop-motion, and this also adds to the fun of it. This could be a traditional-animated tale, or even in 3D/CGI or what-not. But we would be missing out on seeing the wool of the sheep, or the detail in something simple as that one dog with the mangy teeth poking out of his mouth, or the detail in the animal 'prison' of all those various creatures. Even a fish in a bowl playing a harmonica is more genuine by being in this claymation style. And yet there are scenes where the danger gets to be quite great - the sheep wind up on the 'street' with some dogs - and still the emotion is there in *claymation* eyeballs. The use of songs is fun as well, if once or twice perhaps too 'pop'-like. Of course there has to be some appeal for wide audiences, and that's fine.
But I can't emphasize enough how rich the storytelling is here. This can be watched and enjoyed immensely by families - as a grown man I might have been laughing more than some of the kids in the audience - but also for cinephiles who may think that the sort of visual-comic style has become all-too-rarefied (maybe the films of Sylvain Chomet come close, though this is more accessible than The Triplets of Belleville). I loved these characters, this world, the little in- jokes, even a running gag of a nasty-gnarly dog in the prison cell the filmmakers cut back to whenever they need a laugh. Everything is well-earned, action is exciting and (near the end) intense, and it gives kids some great lessons on companionship and working together as a team.
In other words, Aardman comes just shy of Pixar to giving the best animated film of the year.