Shaun the Sheep: Fun on the farm


The whiff of farmyard manure wafts all the way through this delightful ee-ya-ee-ya-o romp of a movie. And because this is an endearing stop-motion animation flick, with star billing for an adorably cute protagonist (Shaun the Sheep) and his flock of frisky farm animals, even the organic fertiliser here exudes a pleasing, rosy aroma.

Shaun the Sheep Movie is, without exaggeration, as close to perfection as an animated comedy can get. And it works because everything from the storyline to the character delineation to the animation technique retains an elemental simplicity that marks a throwback to a lost age of innocence in filmmaking history. This animal farm isn’t Orwellian in nature: it’s just a normal place where the fun has gone out of everyday life and tedium has slipped in. All it takes is one feisty sheep, and a Big City adventure, to revive the joy of pastoral life.

The movie also celebrates the ultimate triumph of the director over the screenplay writer. For all the big-name voice-over artistes (Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili), not a single coherent word is spoken in the entire film. There’s only an occasional exclamatory ‘Hey’ and some intended (and entirely unintelligible) gibberish, but the auditory embellishment is largely in the form of barnyard bleats and bow-wows. To be able to carry an 85-minute film on just this reflects directorial mastery of a high order.

Genre: Animation comedy

Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

Cast: The fictional animated characters are the real cast; voice-overs for farmyard noises don’t count

Storyline: It takes a Big City adventure for a bunch of frisky farm animals to celebrate the joy of their mundane lives

The resonance with the era of the silent movie is striking, and even Shaun, with his droopy eyes, bears a passing resemblance to Buster Keaton. But in every other way though, Shaun is rather more animated, and his face, unlike Keaton’s, is incandescent with a range of emotions as he plots to break the daily drudgery on the animal farm, only to see his ‘friskypade’ backfire on them. His plan for an ‘off-day’ goes careening out of control, like the camper in which the animals tuck away their overlord, The Farmer. This opens up the plotline possibilities for an adventure in the Big City, with all its perils (including an officious Animal Containment Officer) and wacky eventualities.

The directors have devised a comical way to keep the humour rolling along from frame to frame, with a visual pun (a cow jumps over a signpost for a pub called ‘The Moon’), an inversion of a cliché (counting sheep jumping over a fence induces drowsiness in everyone, even The Farmer), and subtle shout-outs to other films (like the hissy cat in the animal shelter, which channels Hannibal Lecter). The comedic effect, therefore, works at several levels: flatulent noises cater to the lowest denominator, but there’s rather more refined humour as well.

Overall, a slick flick. Go gaze into Shaun’s droopy eyes; you’re guaranteed to fall in love with his friskiness of spirit.

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 2:50:35 AM |

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