It’s too bad the title “A Grand Day Out” has already been used by the folks at Aardman Animations for the first Wallace and Gromit movie. It would have been the perfect monicker for the studio’s latest: “Shaun the Sheep Movie.”
That name doesn’t exactly sing, does it? Oh, but Shaun and his sheep mates do. In lovely, wordless harmony in one of the movie’s very many funny sequences.
A bull’s-eye from Aardman, this one, a welcome return to top form after the disappointment of the frantic “Flushed Away,” the overbusy “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and the mildly amusing “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.”
“Shaun” is full-bore funny to the bone. But gentle, as all the best pictures in the Aardman oeuvre are. Even when characters are being konked on the noggin or shoved in a cell in a spooky pet prison, there’s nary a trace of mean-spiritedness underlying the action.
Based on a TV cartoon series, “Shaun” extends the range of the endearing ruminant of the title by sending him and his fellow woolies on an eventful day trip from their farm home to the Big City to locate and rescue their befuddled farmer-owner. Seems he lost his memory on account of a head-konk, and so knows not of his son-of-the-soil roots nor of his loyal and very concerned sheep.
“Shaun” gives the unmistakable impression that writers/directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak and their merry band of clay animators had a blast making the movie. They’re shameless in the way they’ve stuffed “Shaun” with silly visual gags. There is, for example, a cow. Which is launched over a sign for a pub identified as “The Moon.” Later on, there is another sign, announcing “convenient quarry” adorned with a picture of a shed being shoved into same. At the moment the sign is seen, it just so happens that a shed containing our heroes is being pushed inexorably to the brink of the pit by the ’toon’s baddie, a fanatical animal control officer. The result? A literal cliffhanger.
Movie references abound, such as a poster of the farmer with arms crossed and holding dangerous-looking shears, in the signature pose of Marvel’s Wolverine. Elsewhere, there’s a cat in a cell in a head cone smacking his lips in the fashion of Dr. Lecter. Would you care for some fava beans with that?
No creature in the picture speaks. Growls and grumbles and baahs and burps provide the dialogue. And there is a burp sequence in a high-tone restaurant that rivals the bean scene in “Blazing Saddles” for lowbrow hilarity.
They’re inventive in their antics, these sheep. And also masters of disguise. One masquerades as a surgeon in an operating room (hacksaw, please). In disguise, they do a crosswalk walk that evokes the Beatles on the “Abbey Road” album cover. That sort of thing is for the adults.
As for the kids, they’ll love it for the gross (yet gentle) humor: In addition to all that belching, someone lands head-first in a manure pile.
Good times for the whole family.
SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE
☆☆☆☆out of 5
Cast: Featuring the voices of Justin Fletcher (Shaun), John Sparkes (The Farmer) and Omid Djalili (Trumper).
Directors: Mark Burton and Richard Starzak.
Running time: 1:26.
Rated: PG, for rude humor.