May 7, 2016

filmsgraded.com:
Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)
Grade: 60/100

Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak
Stars: None

What it's about. A stop-motion animated feature, based on the successful British television series. Although creator Nick Park remains involved, the film is written and directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak. The latter is heavily involved with the Shaun the Sheep series, and the former is a longtime associate of Park. Neither Burton nor Starzak were primary contributors to the two prior Nick Park features, Chicken Run (2000) and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).

The story begins on a sheep farm familiar to viewers of the television series. The nameless farmer is a clueless thirty-something who lives alone. He has a loyal dog, Bitzer, who follows his directives in keeping the sheep in line.

The sheep, though, have other ideas, and regularly get in and out of trouble. They are led by Shaun, and the flock includes a fat sheep, a lamb and his mother, etc.

One day the sheep decide to take a day off from the humdrum routine. Their prank on the farmer backfires, and he ends up with amnesia in the nearby city. Because it is a movie, the farmer becomes Mr. X, a celebrity hairstylist at a salon, and his heavy-on-the-top haircuts are all the rage. Bitzer is less fortunate, and ends up in an animal prison, er, shelter, where he meets Slip, a small mutt in need of rescue. The prison, er, shelter, is run by obsessive dogcatcher Trumper.

The sheep realize they need the farmer back. They travel to the city, disguised as people, to find the farmer. Their activities draw the attention of suspicious Trumper, the film's increasingly unhinged antagonist. Since the farmer has amnesia, he must be kidnapped, but things work out anyway.

How others will see it. A critical fave, Shaun the Sheep Movie has a remarkable 99% fresh rating at the Rotten Tomatoes website. At imdb.com, the movie has a more reasonable rating of 7.4 out of 10. The ratings are consistent across all demographics.

The film was a box office success, but its imdb.com user vote total, 22K, is modest. Chicken Run, for example, has 138K ratings and had a correspondingly higher worldwide box office gross. The movie was nominated for Best Animated Feature at both the Oscars and Golden Globes.

Reading user reviews at imdb.com, one begins to understand how the film could obtain a 99% Fresh score. It appeals to everyone, has whimsical humor, and is family friendly. Those who fear going to the theaters due to loud scores are in luck. There is essentially no dialogue, and the score is tame.

How I felt about it. From a critical perspective, the Nick Park franchise peaked with the train scene in The Wrong Trousers (1993). Chicken Run was also good, and so is the present Shaun the Sheep Movie, although only marginally so. The gags remain amusing, and the attention to detail is there. In particular, the animation is excellent. Stop-motion animation will never be a lost art as long as Nick Park is active.

The film does have its problems, though. It moves slowly. Compared with The Wrong Trousers, the three principals have their counterparts here: the dimwitted man becomes the farmer, the loyal dog becomes Bitzer, and the penguin mastermind criminal becomes Trumper. Two out of three characters transfer directly, but the vainglorious Trumper is less engaging.

Shaun and his sheep flock are likable but lack charisma. Their achievements are difficult to believe: if they can pass as people, mix as people, and move like people, then their potential is lost as mere sheep to be sheared on a farm.