MEET SHAUN! He's a little sheep with big dreams, and lately, life on Mossy Bottom Farm has become a bit dull. When Shaun takes the day off for some fun in the Big City, he gets a lot more action than he bargained for. Now Shaun and his flock must use their wits to hatch a baaaa-rilliant plan to get back home in an adventure the whole family will love.
'Shaun the Sheep' takes the traditional form of expositional story and throws it by the wayside. It has no need for dialogue. None. Like those indelible first few moments of Pixar's 'Up,' 'Shaun the Sheep embraces pure visual storytelling.
On the surface 'Shaun the Sheep's aversion to spoken word might seem like a gimmick, but it soon becomes clear that it's not. It's not a gimmick, because it works. This is a story that doesn't need a narrator, or characters, explaining its purpose or intent.
Now when a movie refrains from dialogue in long stretches it's received curiously. Can such a thing exist in today's age? Aren't children these days supposed to have shorter attention spans and a lower patience threshold? Can a movie – a kids movie! – really forgo dialogue entirely and still come out the other side unscathed? The answer is a resounding yes.
This is a masterclass in visual comedy. So many comedies now are missing the point when it comes to presenting visual gags, it's all payoff and no setup. Here the folks at Aardman are perfectionists. They're able to convey admiration, humor, love, disappointment, anger, and anxiety all without saying a word.
Shaun and his flock of sheep are tired of their daily being-sheep routine. Every day is the same slog to the field to graze. Then there's the sheering, that's no fun either. There were happier times. The film starts with old home video of a young vitalized farmer just starting out. Shaun and his friends were just lambs then. Ah, those were the days. Now, however, the rut of the everyday routine has worn down both sheep and farmer.
In order to break the mundane cycle of his life, Shaun plans an elaborate get-out-of-work scheme that sets the scene for the kind of wacky visual hijinks that will predictably ensue. The key here is that the visuals and the plot are one in the same. A symbiotic relationship that never fails to amuse. Take for example a joke where Shaun and his fellow sheep form a circle and jump over a fence until the unsuspecting farmer falls asleep. We all know the contextual meaning of counting sheep, but here Aardman has spun the old wives' tale into a hilarious sneak attack employed by the sheep. They don't require any dialogue because every bit of nuanced communication you need is up there on the screen.
Aardman's creativity in crafting an entirely wordless narrative is astounding. What's more is that it's compelling, hilarious, and it keeps kids' attention.
That's not to mention the animation which, to this day, still contains more real-life detail than computer-generated animation could ever dream of. There's a warm, loving quality to Aardman's Claymation. It just feels rich and so full of life. Imbued with a surrealist impression of lifelike quality that a computer can't replicate.
There's so much to enjoy here. The comedy is surgical, with its deft set ups and satisfying payoffs. Its characters earn admiration without uttering a word. The emotional underpinnings are surprisingly effective. It's a family-friendly movie that will mesmerize the kids and keep the adults laughing, all the while reacquainting the whole household with the wonders of (nearly) silent film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate offers up a 2-disc set for 'Shuan the Sheep.' It comes with a DVD and a 25GB Blu-ray. An UltraViolet Digital Copy and slipcover are also included.
Presented in 1080p, Lionsgate has done a marvelous job transferring this little gem to Blu-ray. Looking even better than their treatment of 'Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection,' 'Shaun the Sheep' provides rich detail, vivid color, and strong depth.
The Claymation technique used here, which Aardman Animation has perfected, works extremely well paired with high definition. Each bump and fingerprint left in the clay is perfectly visible. The intricate stitching of clothing, sweaters, blankets, and scarves is readily apparent. Animation of this sort lends itself to this type of presentation. There are just so many details to behold. Much like 'The Fantastic Mr. Fox,' each scene offers an immense amount of visual stimuli that is presented cleanly and clearly.
Colors are vibrant. They pop off the screen with startlingly clarity. Black areas are deep, but not overbearing. Whites are bright, but not hot. Contrast is right where it should be. There is no banding or aliasing to speak of. It's a clear, technically proficient presentation without a noticeable misstep.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix performs admirably. Here's a movie without any dialogue, so sound effects and the overall immersive atmosphere must come from the sound design. While the story is told visually, it's also enriched by the nuanced sound effect provided.
Here we get more than enough. Animal noises like baas, grunts, moos, and quacks are given nice room to breathe up front. The surrounds are filled with all sorts of busy city noise once Shaun travels to The Big City. Action scenes, like when the farmer is careening down a country road in his camper, are filled with all sorts of surround sound effects immersing the listeners. As the trailer tumbles and screeches down the street, directionality works wonders moving the action to relevant speaker channels.
There aren't many areas in the movie where LFE really takes over. Your sub-woofer won't be getting a huge workout with this one, however, there are a few intense scenes where the bass is called upon to perform, and it does. While not as astounding as the visuals, the audio here is no slouch.
Making 'Shaun the Sheep Movie' (HD, 12 min.) – Interviews and such with the film's crew as they discuss making the movie.
Meet the Characters (HD, 4 min.) – The characters are introduced here. Pretty straightforward.
Join Shaun Behind the Scenes (HD, 3 min.) – Features some behind the scenes animation work.
Meet the Crew (HD, 3 min.) – More promotional interviews with the animation crew.
Parody Poster Gallery (HD) – A gallery of funny posters.
'Shaun the Sheep' remains one of my favorite movies of the year. It's a fascinating display of how visual storytelling can take on the same importance and humor as dialogue-based scripting. Aardman's masterful animation, the way they setup jokes, and the way they work toward the payoffs is exquisite. If I sound like I'm gushing, it's for good reason. So, with a video and audio presentation as strong as these, 'Shaun the Sheep' comes highly recommended.