Amazing and brilliant --- stop-motion claymation without a word of dialogue, just a few grunts and moans thrown in --- describes the newest release, "Shaun the Sheep Movie", from Aardman Animations, Ltd., the people who produced "Wallace and Gromit" and "Chicken Run". Based on the British TV series, Shaun and his flock get into all kinds of mischief when they decide to take a day off.


Mossy Bottom Farm is an idyllic setting for the farmer and his animals. He runs a tight schedule, awakening everyday to the sound of the cock crowing and his alarm jangling. The rest of the farm population, including the sheep, Bitzer the sheep dog, the pigs and the bull, all obey the farmer's strict daily routine, but Shaun gets the bright idea of breaking their monotonous grind.


The sheep's plan of lulling the farmer to sleep works beautifully until the travel-trainer they've locked him in rolls off its mooring and carries the farmer into the Big City.    


To save the farmer, Shaun and his fellow sheep also travel to the Big City. There they must devise a solution to get the farmer safely back to Mossy Bottom, while staying one step ahead of Trumper, the maniacal animal-control worker.


Written and directed by Richard Starzak and Mark Burton, "Shaun the Sheep Movie" is a totally engaging, delightfully clever bit of filmmaking. The stop-motion clay animation is seamless and flawless. Hours upon hours of tedious work are necessary to produce this unique style, and the results are fantastic.


There are innumerable hilarious moments which spring to mind, making this experience so gratifying. Examples such as lobsters in a restaurant tank claw-bumping, the dog staring contest, Trumper flirting with two sheep dressed as a woman --- I could go on and on, but, trust me, this movie is funny!


The music, composed by Ilan Eshkeri, is wonderful and perfectly suited to the shenanigans of Shaun and his fellow conspirators. The title song "Feels Like Summer", a collaboration between Eshkeri, Tim Wheeler, who sings, and Nick Hodgson, is truly memorable. It's a possible contender for Best Original Song come Oscar season.


Seriously, there is nothing better than hearing small children belly laugh --- out loud. "Shaun the Sheep Movie" produces those laughs in spades. During our viewing, I was immensely tickled to hear such unabashed gaiety. And adults will love this movie as much as the kids.


Opinion: See It Now!




Based on a long-running British children's show, "Shaun The Sheep Movie" is literally a movie for the whole family to enjoy. Small kids will giggle at some of the antics of the stop-motion animated figures, while adults will marvel at the exceedingly clever attention to detail the filmmakers achieved. And if you haven't heard --- there is no dialogue.


The storyline is simple enough. Animals on a farm --- the sheep in particular --- need a reprieve from the activities their farmer demands every day. So when a bus rolls by with a billboard on the side advertising " a day off", Shaun and the rest of his flock go into action. They lull the farmer to sleep by replicating the old cliche of sheep jumping over a fence, which the farmer can't help but count, until he dozes off.


He eventually winds up in the "Big City" --- an unspecified urban sprawl --- and in a hospital bed due to a mishap which leaves him with amnesia. The animals, however, realize they need him where he belongs to keep everything in order. So it is their mission to jog his memory and get him back on the farm, but they must overcome a villainous "animal contain" worker.


The absence of any discernible speech was a huge challenge for co-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, and their giant crew. To convey certain behaviors and emotions, the animators had to depend on characters’ arms, ears, general poses and body language. The characters do enhance the lack of speaking voices by issuing grunts and other unintelligible sounds, but they still make sense in conjunction with their movements, and the context of each scene.


The audience may be filling in its own dialogue, silently, of course, as the 85 minute film races along. And it does move quickly, so much so that a second viewing with a remote and a pause button would be advisable. The sight gags and background artwork all contribute individually to the whole, and quite honestly, I missed more than a few of these. I know this because Jeanne was laughing more than me. Of course, she's younger and obviously smarter, but I digress ----


You want detail? There is one scene in which the pigs, having taken up residence in the farmhouse after the farmer's disapperance, hear everyone returning. They skedaddle, but only after cleaning up the mess they've made. And when the last pig leaves the house, he pauses momentarily to  wipe his fingerprints off the doorknob.


For adults in the crowd, "Shaun The Sheep Movie" pays homage to other films, like "The Silence of the Lambs" and Hannibal Lector type sounds coming from a cat in a cone, and later what appears to be a reference to Robert DeNiro looking in the mirror in "Taxi Driver".


The painstaking process of creating a feature-length film with claymation is widely known, but here are some stats. The filmmakers shot 40-50 takes a week, which equals two and a half minutes of running time. Each animator had a goal of finishing three seconds of footage a day. If a single animator was responsible for the entire movie, it would have taken almost nine years.


"Shaun The Sheep Movie" has a terrific soundtrack, thanks to Ilan Eshkeri, a British composer who also has worked on such diverse properties as "The Young Victoria", "Still Alice" and "Kick-Ass".


The directors believe their film will appeal to moviegoers world-wide since language is not a barrier. As one of them said, “We’re confident audiences will, er, flock to 'Shaun The Sheep  Movie'. It’s the funniest film of the year –-- baaaa none."


Opinion: See It Now!