Shaun the Sheep: The Mad Max of kids’ movies
Inevitably when I review a movie meant for children and come down on it the least little bit, some huffy parent emails to tell me off for sh*tting on harmless whizz-bangs meant to distract the children for ninety minutes or so. I say the same thing every time—it’s hard to give a movie like Minions a pass when there is better entertainment available to wee children, like Inside Out. Or Shaun the Sheep, the latest animated feature—spun off from a BBC series of the same name—from Aardman Studios, the makers of Wallace & Gromit (and one of my all-time favorite animated movies, The Pirates! Band of Misfits). Shaun the Sheep is wildly cute, bright and funny and charming, but it also has real heart tucked underneath all the jokes. It’s what Minions could have been, if Minions was anything other than a branding exercise.
Shaun is a sheep bored with the repetitive nature of farm life, and so he decides to take a vacation after seeing an ad on the side of a bus. Chaos ensues, and as a result, Shaun and his flock must go to The Big City to find their missing farmer and restore order on the farm. In The Big City, however, they encounter an enthusiastic animal control officer who tries to catch them, and more chaos ensues. It’s a simple story, with no extra bits or even dialogue, making it the Mad Max: Fury Road of animated movies. Like that movie, Shaun the Sheep tells it story visually, relaying information through action, musical cues, and the masterful animation of Aardman, making each sheep and figure a real, utterly believable character even as they look obviously fake.
There’s plenty to delight young children, with cute animals and slapstick humor, but there are a lot of references and gags thrown in for adults, too. I laughed A LOT in this movie, and the sense of delight and, frankly, joy sticks with you after it’s over. Even my tar-and-bourbon heart was touched, especially by a scene set in the pound on Adoption Day that is painfully hopeful and sad. There’s no real moral to the story, except perhaps “friends!” and “teamwork!” and maybe “consider adopting a pet!” But that makes Shaun easy for kids to swallow, compared to, say, Inside Out, where I wondered if young viewers would even understand all of what is going on. Shaun the Sheep is exactly what “harmless” children’s movies should be—fun and funny, entertaining and joyful, a big heart in a sweet, gentle package.