If you’re over five years old, as we rather suspect you might be, then Shaun The Sheep is a supporting character from Wallace and Gromit’s A Close Shave; a scuttly lamb who narrowly avoided destiny in a dog-food tin. If you are five or under then he’s the star of an eponymous hit TV show, in which he and a flock of quite dim sheep get up to smallish escapades on a farm. His TV episodes are about seven minutes long; on the big screen he has to fill about 90.
It’s a bold move on Aardman’s part to give Shaun the movie treatment as he is, being a sheep, mute. Everyone in his world is almost completely mute. The only one who makes noises close to speech is The Farmer, who just mumbles like he’s had recent root canal. Yet the lack of dialogue is of no harm to the film. In fact, it marks it out, even more than the fact it’s moulded from Plasticine. All the pressure is on the stop-motion animation and it makes a strong case for why this particular medium should not be viewed as outdated. The personality of it is remarkable — no animation house can convey exasperation with the small shift of a unibrow quite like Aardman — and there is at no point any issue with conveying the story, which is complicated enough to include amnesia, the cruelty of society, evil animal controllers, the vapidity of celebrity and the complicated emotions of poodles. It is superb physical comedy. Think Monsieur Hulot robbed of opposable thumbs.
Although it’s expanded the map of the TV show and beefed up the set-pieces, this isn’t a ‘big’ movie. It still feels small-town and quaint, but that seems right. The Wallace and Gromit ‘universe’ should feel like you could cross it in about 45 minutes. Never mind the width, feel the quality.