Aardman Animations offer a glorious return to form in their most recent feature film. The 85 minute stop-motion animation is a spin-off of their proudest creation; Wallace and Gromit, and is as successful as a subtle and thought-provoking piece on visual storytelling, as it is a heart-warming and delightfully childish slapstick comedy.
Silent throughout, Shaun the Sheep welcomes the narrative qualities of the French Farce and the coming-of-age movie in equal measure and acts as a cosy reminder that dialogue is a luxury and not a necessity in the filmmaking process. Hitchcock suggested the silent pictures were the purest form of filmmaking; and whilst the advent of synchronised sound added a new dimension to cinema, the vitality and sophistication of the visual image could be said to have been reduced.
Whilst detailing a beautiful and rich environment for the action to play out, the images in Shaun the Sheep are forced to actively drive the story, which makes for refreshing and enthralling cinema, and only at one point in the film (during which a plot-point is explicitly written out on screen) was I reminded that this is a film that children too, should be allowed to enjoy. A mark of respect to Aardman, that it was so easy to forget this seemingly essential factor.
The audience of all ages were engaged by constant references to cinema classics; from Shawshank to Silence of the Lambs. The children watching revelled in the comic absurdity of the situations, whilst parents were comforted by the director’s nod to them; as cinema fans themselves and not merely taxi-drivers to the film’s real fan base. The plot too carefully referenced Aardman’s own productions including the 1995 short film; A Close Shave, in which we are first introduced to the character of Shaun the Sheep and also their Box Office smash, Chicken Run (2000). It may have taken him two decades to become the star, but in their backing of Shaun, Aardman’s dialogue-free delight becomes a memorable and ebullient joy.