Despite a mere 85 minute runtime, 2015’s Shaun the Sheep Movie is notably slow. It may be a really good movie, but the absence of dialogue, mixed with the relaxing pace makes it easy to check out at times. Maybe stop-motion animation does this to me. But the story is more slice-of-life than traditional animated films, featuring long chunks of runtime with characters just living in their environment. I get that this is the point, but there were long stretches I found myself struggling.
The movie starts pretty slowly as we see one montage bleed into the next. The first is set some years in the past as a farmer first acquires his flock of sheep and sheep dog as babies. His two favorites being Shaun and his dog, Bitzer. Then, we move to present day and we’re shown the literal repetition of the routine of the farmer and his animals. We see him feeding his flock, trimming their wool, and even see him doing the most mundane things, such as putting on deodorant.
These sequences are necessary for the effectiveness of the rest of the story, but are still difficult to get through without missing anything. Perhaps I was too focused on the art of the animation itself, or the busy set pieces behind the action. Claymation can be useful because of how it sets its characters within their surroundings, making the world feel more real. But with Shaun the Sheep, at times the world feels almost so real that it’s distracting.
Bored with the routine of the farm, Shaun concocts an elaborate plan so he and his friends can get a little vacation. He tricks the farmer into falling asleep by forcing him to literally count sheep. But a series of mishaps sends the sleeping farmer into the big city on a runaway caravan, where he gets into a bad crash, causing him to lose his memory.
Shaun, Blitzer, and the rest of the sheep head to town to look for him, and this is where it gets good. The animals dress up like humans, and hilariously try to blend in. Meanwhile, the farmer, who’s also not used to city life, takes a job as a hairstylist, but gives all of his rich clients sheep-like haircuts, which creates a viral fad and makes him famous.
There are some genuinely funny moments in this movie and the humor all throughout is clever, but at times the jokes border on juvenile or silly. Like the aforementioned counting sheep bit, or certain gags that would normally work in a Looney Tunes cartoon, they seem a bit too eye rolling for a film that tries to be more lifelike with its animation. However, Shaun the Sheep is intended for children, so we can’t fault it too much. But then, on the other hand, there are some very jarring adult moments that fly under the radar as well.
Based on the TV show of the same name (minus the word “Movie”) and spun off of a Wallace & Gromit film, the filmmakers seem to lean on the fact that the audience already knows the story of its characters. The relationship between the farmer and Shaun leaves much to be desired, as while we appreciate the trajectory, we wish we could be even more invested in the stakes at hand.
However, Shaun the Sheep Movie is still a very touching story overall, with a wealth of hilarity we’ve come to expect from Aardman Animation carried here by some delightful fish-out-of-water moments to make the movie enjoyable amidst the all-too-relaxed pace.