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Byron Shire
February 5, 2023

Shaun The Sheep

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It’s only a matter of taste, but stop-frame animation has never won me over as easily as conventionally ‘drawn’ cartoons. The figures look a bit too unsophisticated – like plasticine toys from a kindy sand-pit – and their movements are never quite fluent enough to convince.

But there are always exceptions, and this cracker of a movie is just that.

Shaun is one of a small mob of sheep on an idyllic farm – there are also slovenly pigs, a cantankerous bull and a shyster mallard duck.

The no-nonsense farmer is inadvertently transported to the Big City while sleeping in a caravan and, suffering from memory loss, is completely unaware of the house and creatures he has left behind. It falls to Shaun and the other sheep to find him and restore order to their rural bliss.

The story gets off to a sluggish start, primarily due to the toyish stylization and the realisation that all that follows will be without dialogue. There is a cast credited – Justin Fletcher as Shaun, John Sparkes as the farmer and Omid Djalilil as the villain Trumper, among others – but what communications they have among themselves are in grunts and sighs and guffaws. So essentially, the adventure is a silent movie enhanced by sound effects, in which the narrative is purely pictorial.

But before you know it, you’re immersed in a cavalcade of misadventure, with the screenplay sticking loyally to the time honoured structure of cause and effect as one thing leads hilariously to another.

There is so much to like in the social commentary, too – the farmer, taken on as a hairdresser after shearing a pampered celebrity, has his rustic coif  slavishly copied by other hipsters – and the fleeting visual references to pop-culture icons, including Christine Keeler astride that chair and Hannibal Lecter in the dog pound.

Attention to incidental detail – the splintery barn door, the stones of the cottage – and a welling hope for it all to end happily (the bull comes into his own) will reward those who make the effort.

~ John Campbell

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