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Sunday, March 06, 2016

Shaun the Sheep Movie

One of the nominees for Best Animated Feature at this year's Oscars was Shaun the Sheep Movie, a claymation film coming out of the delightful Aardman Studios. Shaun the Sheep is a spin-off character from Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit series, but I was totally unaware of this as I watched the film.

Like many of Aardman's films, Shaun the Sheep Movie has highly intelligent animals (not quite anthropomorphic, but close) on some sort of wild adventure. It is in some ways a cross between a Far Side cartoon and George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Shaun and his fellow sheep live on Mossy Bottom Farm. The Farmer is a loving sort, but lives on a tight routine, enabled by his dog, Bitzer, who takes his work seriously. Shaun longs to just have one day off, so he and the others conspire to occupy Bitzer and put the Farmer to sleep (by counting sheep) but their attempt backfires, and puts the Farmer in the hospital with amnesia. They and Bitzer must now find the Farmer without being caught by the evil Animal Control Officer.

Aardman stuff is wonderful and droll--no belly laughs, just some chuckles and many smiles. The humor is very English and very humanistic, as animals are given the best human characteristics and people the worst. There is also a sense of the absurd that floats through the movie, best expressed by the plot thread that finds the Farmer, who can't remember his name, taking a job as a trendy hair cutter because of his talents at shearing wool. I also quite enjoyed when the sheep, dressed as humans, visit a fancy restaurant and don't know what to do--some chew on the menus.

There's also a sense of camaraderie in the animals. Bitzer and Shaun put aside their differences, and enlist another dog, who is something of an outcast because of sheer ugliness (he, or she, looks like a Charles Booth dog). That dog has a happy ending, as does everyone, when the Farmer remembers who he is (thankfully he is a wool farmer--there is no sign that any animals are slaughtered at Mossy Bottom).

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