In Shaun The Sheep, written and directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, Shaun decides that he and his flock deserve a much-needed rest. Unfortunately, best-laid plans often go awry and we find that Shaun is no exception to the rule. While Shaun intended to simply lull the farmer to sleep, he ultimately sends him plummeting down their hill towards the big city below. Now, in an ironic twist, the sheep must search for and rescue their shepherd, who might not want to return to the farm after all.
It is rare to find a film that gives an equal amount of attention to the narrative as well as the sonic aspects of the film, as opposed to solely ramping up the visual effects. In Shaun The Sheep, it becomes obvious early on that the craftsmen responsible for this film know what they are doing. Unable to use traditional dialogue to get a laugh, Mark and Richard are challenged to exploit the use of sound effects as well as the elegant score composed by Ilan Eshkeri. One can tell that they are listening to a great score when it supports each and every scene in a film and refrains from drawing attention to itself. In the middle of the film, Shaun and his pals pretend to be civilians as they dine in a posh restaurant. When their cover is blown, the silence is palpable. But, as Shaun and the sheep begin to run for their lives, the claymation piano player in the scene scores the pandemonium on the spot! This scene is a perfect microcosm for how the score works in the film, and it works effortlessly.
At the beginning of the film, we find an overworked farm. Farmer and animals alike are worn thin from the daily grind. When a bus drives by, plastered with an ad admonishing all who see it to, “take time off”, Shaun’s urge to rest is confirmed. While this film proposes that rest from work is essential, it also holds up the value of honest work, like farming. The rhythm of work and rest that is portrayed in Shaun The Sheep is a beautiful depiction of the rest from work that is offered to humanity in scripture. This rest, or Sabbath, affirms our created goodness. We (animals as well as humans) are not machines; we need rest to work well and subsequently, work to rest well. But as we learn in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything under the sun, and when your friend loses his way, it’s time to, “get going”. Finding the farmer and bringing him home suddenly become much more important than taking a nap.
Spoiler Alert: the farmer suffers a head wound that leads to memory loss. Through a hilarious series of events, he stumbles into stardom. Countless fans tweet, post and pine about this man who used to be a simple farmer, but is now a fashion icon. But like many stars, they are worshiped, but not loved. They are revered but kept out of the neighborhoods and farms in which we live. Will the farmer remember his name? Will the shepherd remember his former calling and the love that sustained him, Shaun and the rest of the flock? Or will he choose to be revered and idolized, rather than be the shepherd his flock so desperately needs him to be?
The amount of skill that went into creating the clay world of Shawn The Sheep is enough to warrant a standing ovation. Fans of the now classic Wallace and Grommit films will find much continuity here. The creative team at Aardman is showing no signs of slowing down or succumbing to creative laziness. They continue to create stop-motion masterpieces that entertain old and young alike. In a time where many writer-director teams create films that numb the mind while attempting to tantalize the eyes, Shawn The Sheep refuses to take the easy way out. Shawn knows that the best films engage all of the senses equally, and viewers will be more than happy to join Shawn and the gang in their escapade.