by Nancy Phelps
Britain’s Aardman Animation Studio is back on the big screen in the United States doing what it does best, providing pure entertainment in flawless claymation. The 85-minute Shaun the Sheep Movie, written and directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, brings Shaun and his fellow sheep to the big screen along with all of the usual suspects from the BBC television series.
The film opens with Shaun deciding that he wants to take a day off from the boring routine of barnyard life at Mossy Bottom Farm, but first he has to devise a plan to put The Farmer to sleep. Shaun’s plan works much better than expected when the trailer that The Farmer falls asleep in breaks loose from its moorings on a steep hillside and the sleeping Farmer, the farmer’s long-suffering dog, Bitzer, and Shaun find themselves in the big city. Shaun is accompanied on the adventure by Shirley, the largest sheep in the flock; Baby Timmy, who is Shaun’s cousin; Timmy’s Mother, whose pink hair curlers and topknot are ever-present, and the rest of the flock.
When Shaun made his first appearance in Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave in 1995, he became an instant hit with audiences. In 2007, Shaun and all of the other farm residents created by four-time Oscar winner Nick Park, became regulars on their own 15-minute television show. Unlike many TV series that are transferred to the big screen, Shaun the Sheep Movie loses none of its zest, with lots of slapstick comedy and classic chase scenes. Like the small screen version, the film doesn’t have any dialogue, but it is full of expressive animal sounds that are particularly funny—especially in the restaurant scene where the sheep disguise themselves in thrift shop clothes and try to look “normal” to evade the animal control officer who is chasing them.
The lively musical score is written by Ilan Eshken who has composed music for numerous British movies, as well as the 2012 BBC animated Christmas special The Snowman and the Snowdog. The music keeps pace with the action, especially in the old style Keystone Cops chase scenes.
When you take the kids to see Shaun the Sheep Movie, be prepared to enjoy the film as much as they do, because this is a film for the entire family. Aardman Animation likes to add a special gag or two at the end of their films, so be sure not to leave until all of the credits have rolled, or you will miss some delightful surprises.
Aardman Animation was cofounded in 1972 by Peter Lord and David Sproxton. Most people are familiar with the Bristol, England-based studio as the creators of Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and most recently The Pirates!, but the studio is equally committed to raising money for charity through their Wallace and Gromit Charity Foundation, which aims to improve the quality of life for children in hospitals and hospices.
Peter Lord and I were both guests at the Euganea Film Festival in Este, Italy recently, and he told me that Shaun has been spotted all over London this spring on the Shaun in the City trail. There are 50 giant Plexiglas Shaun statues decorated by prominent artists, designers, and celebrities. Also, 70 different Shauns can be found by following the Shaun the Sheep trail in Bristol. On October 8, all 120 of the Shaun statues will go on the auction block. Money raised from the sale of the 50 sculptures on the London trail will benefit hospitals and hospices throughout the United Kingdom, and funds generated by the 70 Shauns around Bristol will go to The Grand Appeal, The Bristol Childrens Hospital, and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Michaels Hospital.
Peter and Aardman Animation have every reason to be proud of the work the Wallace and Gromit Charity does. The Gromit Unleashed project placed 80 differently-decorated fiberglass Gromits throughout Bristol in 2013, and the sale of the statues raised 5 million pounds (over 7 million dollars) at auction for the Bristol Children’s Hospital.
If you or your company are interested in having your very own unique Shaun the Sheep statue, you can register online and bid from anywhere in the world during the auction on October 8. Even if you are not bidding, you can join in the fun by watching the auction, which will be streamed live on the 8th at shauninthecity.org.uk.
Nancy Denney-Phelps is a journalist writing about European animation and festivals as well as a producer of music for animation. Along with her composer/musician husband Nik Phelps, she co-founded the Sprocket Ensemble, dedicated to presenting live performances of original music with screenings of contemporary animation from around the world.
Nancy’s writings have appeared in such publications as Cartoon and Animatoon as well as on her regular blog for AWN (Animation World Network). She is also a regular correspondent for ASIFA/San Francisco and a member of the ASIFA International Board of Directors.
Nancy has served on numerous International Animation Festival juries and taught time management for animators at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, School of Art and Design. Her strong interest in the history of animation has led her to present programs on the history of animation traced through music at many animation festivals and conferences worldwide. She also works as advisor to several animation festivals.