That most unapologetically British of animation studios, Ardman Animation, is set to reap its most international success to date with the dialogue-free, relentlessly charming Shaun the Sheep Movie.
Following the path from small screen to big, blazed first by the studio’s original hit franchise, Wallace and Gromit, the eponymous Shaun leaps the fence from zippy seven-minute television episodes to a full-blown feature affair. Considering there’s not a lick of actual language spoken throughout the film, there was plenty of opportunity for the farmyard frolic to get mired in its own running time. But such is the well-crafted wit of the film-makers that, even at its lowest ebb, the film has adorable energy to burn.
Moving the capers from farmyard of Mossy Bottom to the Bristol-like Big City, Shaun the Sheep Movie sees the woolly hero and his flock of lively livestock up to all manner of mischief in the concrete jungle after accidentally inflicting amnesia upon their farmer. With no recollection but the muscle memory of shearing, the befuddled workman ends up becoming a trendy hairdresser and overnight celebrity. Meanwhile, the sheep wind their way through various set-pieces – a fancy restraint, op-shop, pound – all the while trying to dodge a slightly narcissistic animal control villain.
Expect the same level of impeccable production quality as found in the studio’s previous works. Ardman this time partners with French-based StudioCanal, and seems to revel in putting a bit of distance between itself and the American sensibilities of previous partners DreamWorks and Sony. Mischievousness is the name of the game and, while ditching the (albeit usually very good) Brit-soaked dialogue will make the film a more universal proposition, Shaun the Sheep doesn’t shy away from gags that would likely be labelled a tad ‘too naughty’ for saccharine US kids fodder.
The clever antics of the nimble television show translate and blow up seamlessly to cinema scale, and the film-makers have clearly studied the greats of silent comedy (there’s a sprinkling of nods to Keaton) to make sure project has enough entertainment momentum for the full 85 minutes. Young fans of the television series will be rapt, while the gags keep broad, goofy grins on faces of the uninitiated, young and old alike.