I’m strangely relieved to say this: I don’t have a ton I want to write about Shaun the Sheep Movie. Family movies this year have felt either really complicated and in need of deep exploration (not a bad thing, but there’s a lot of ground to cover with a film like Inside Out), or they’re dull at best and deplorable at worst (Minions, Pixels).
But Shaun and Co. are exactly as advertised: fluffy, bumbling, adorable, and loyal to the end. The movie employs simple storytelling and uncomplicated morality that can engage young filmgoers, but has enough visual interest, gentle humor, and pop culture gags to at least mildly entertain adult chaperones. (To which group I will warn that my biggest complaint against the film is how hard it is to get the theme song out of your head. It may not be suitable for overenthusiastic toddlers with a penchant for repetitive choruses.)
Shaun is one of about half a dozen sheep living on a small farm run by a weary farmer (voiced by John Sparkes) and a dedicated sheepdog, Bitzer (also voiced by John Sparkes). The farm operates on a monotonous daily schedule—a sad change, we learn via montage, from the farm’s relaxed, happy early life when Shaun and Bitzer were young playmates.
Shaun is fed up with how boring their strict schedule is and convinces the rest of the flock through bleats, facial expressions, and complicated chalk drawings that they deserve a day off.
In proper Shaun the Sheep fashion (the flock’s TV show has had Shaun getting them into and out of all kinds of trouble since 2007), everything that can go wrong, does. The farmer ends up asleep in a camper van careening into The Big City as Bitzer races after him. The camper crashes and the farmer loses his memory, leaving poor Bitzer to find a way to get him home.
Meanwhile, the sheep have been having a grand time in the farmer’s house, but when Shaun comes across an old photo of the flock in the good old days, he feels guilty for tricking the farmer and resolves to bring him back from the city. The entire flock decides to come along for the adventure, and of course, mayhem ensues.
The flock is pursued by a villainous Animal Containment worker, so to avoid being caught they dress up as people and try to move around the city unnoticed. Their hijinks are an imaginative combination of “country mouse and city mouse” confusion and “Let’s try to do human things” hilarity. It’s a fun mash-up of some of the best intelligent animal movie tropes. It’s not the most original of material, but it’s tasteful, funny, and often very cute.
The funniest plotline is the farmer’s after he leaves the hospital after his crash. He wanders into a boutique hair salon, and in a fit of repressed memory, grabs a razor and gives a celebrity customer a buzz cut in the same way he would shear a sheep. The celebrity loves it. One viral Instagram post later and the farmer becomes the most popular barber in town.
The primary values expressed by the film are the flock’s loyalty to the farmer and Shaun’s dedication to keeping everyone safe and getting them home. It’s surprisingly potent and heartwarming for a movie with no dialogue. The film conveys emotion primarily through music; the score is varied and lively and there are a couple well-constructed montages.
The animation is nothing to scoff at either. Each character, even each fat, fluffy sheep, has subtle design quirks to create their personalities in a physical way. The soft, juvenile Claymation style has just enough detail to be interesting but not enough to cause sensory overload. Each element is masterfully animated so that it hardly feels like stop motion. Visually, there’s an old-fashioned, tangible feel to the animation that’s a nice reprieve from the more intensely saturated CGI animation of many other kids’ movies.
Shaun the Sheep Movie isn’t the most original, most exciting, most vibrant kids’ movie of the year, but I think it’s the most consistent. You could do a lot worse than this flock of hapless, loving animals. It hits all the right notes in all the right ways to be a sweet, fun movie night with the family. It probably won’t start any enlightening moral conversations but it won’t leave you trying to explain immoral elements either.
It’s nice to be able to call a kids’ movie innocent, and mean it.
Looney Tunes-style violence without gore or signs of serious distress. The animators take advantage of working with clay to smush and squish their characters more than actually hurt them. There’s a little potty humor, but since no one in the film talks, there’s no cursing or bad jokes. The Animal Containment guy gets pretty obsessive about finding the sheep, so that could get a little intense for the littlest viewers.
Jessica Gibson is a former intern with Christianity Today Movies and a student at The King’s College in New York City. She tweets only to fangirl and gripe @GibbyTOD.