The folks at Britain’s Aardman Animation are back, and much as with Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), I find myself in a kind of outside-looking-in mode — only more so. I don’t dislike Shaun the Sheep Movie, but neither am I ga-ga over it. While nearly all of my critic compatriots are singing its praises and making sheep puns, I’m shrugging my shoulders and wondering what kind of pun I can get away with involving the use of the word “flocking.” The film is perfectly fine, but it requires a taste for claymation — and Aardman’s penchant for somewhat unappealingly grotesque character design — which I just don’t have. When everyone else is laughing hysterically, I’m wondering why the sheep’s mouths protrude from the sides of their faces. My loss, I’m sure.
This is a very simple story about our title hero — faced with some kind sheep ennui over the day-to-day tedium of farm life — leading the flock astray and into the Big City with the Farmer and his dog Bitzer in pursuit. That, of course, is merely the set-up for a series of gags and adventures, and I’d be the last to say that most of the gags aren’t clever. They are. The whole thing is geared toward these gags, all of which are visual. There’s no dialogue. The voice cast supplies bleats, barks and assorted…noises, but nothing coherent. That’s clever and different, but it’s a bit limiting, too — and, no, this doesn’t prevent the film being littered with pop-culture references. They’re merely conveyed visually, and they aren’t quite as clever as the early reviews suggested. For example, the announced Night of the Hunter reference is the simplest — and most overused — choice imaginable.
The idea is clearly to evoke the spirit of the great silent comics, though the most obvious direct reference involves a Laurel and Hardy gag that I only recall from a talkie short film — but it is a visual gag. It’s probably in the film’s favor that it doesn’t much attempt to duplicate actual silent movie gags, but instead simply goes for the vibe of those old movies. (Its closest antecedent is the thrill comedy of Harold Lloyd — with a pretty profound dash of the world of Laurel and Hardy where people can be bamboozled by the damndest charades.) Yes, it’s fun — and it wisely doesn’t go on too long — but I found it more clever and amusing than outright funny. Your mileage may vary. Rated PG for rude humor.