Dirs/scr: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak. UK. 2015. 85mins

Shaun The Sheep Movie

The latest stop-motion animated delight from the now legendary British Aardman Animation studios is that most unusual of things, a feature length film aimed for the mainstream family market without any dialogue whatsoever. The character of Shaun the Sheep is already a star in the TV series, which has been a hit around the world since it launched in 2007, but the challenge here is building on a series made up of seven-minute episodes and coming up with a feature length story that will work with children and adults alike.

Shaun The Sheep Film works extremely well as a film and will capture the excitement and amusement of youngsters well versed in the antics of Shaun and his flock.

Thankfully those clever folk at Aardman have succeeded. In a decidedly British adventure (any film that had a caravan as a major part of its story tends to be British) Shaun and his fellow sheep head off on a series of adventures that veer between silly and thrilling to plaintive and even rather sad, but always managing to keep up a barrage of trademark sight gags and puns, both verbal and visual.

Shaun The Sheep Movie had its premiere at Sundance, opens in the UK and Ireland on February 6 and rolls out through the world over coming months. Its lack of dialogue makes it an easy and accessible film for young fans of the source television series, which points a strong international offering with a long home entertainment life. In the UK it is released by StudioCanal, which has put a marker down for family films following its success with Paddington.

Shaun was originally created by Aardman animator/director Nick Park, who featured the character in his 1995 Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit short film A Close Shave), but has gone on to be star of children’s television. And while there is a voice cast here, the film offers nothing but grunts, snores and moans (from the farmer and the other human characters) and growls, bleats, squawks, moos and barks (for the animal characters).

Shaun is something of a smart sheep who lives with the rest of his flock at Mossy Bottom Farm. The opening scenes dwell on how the young Shaun, sheepdog Blitzer and the rest of the animals at the farm as much loved by The Farmer, showing their early years through ‘archival’ footage and old photographs. Years later and despite Shaun’s best efforts life on the farm is a plodding series of things to be ticked off the farmer’s must-do list, and so Shaun comes up with the plan of having a day off.

It all starts well, with loyal but rather inept sheepdog Blitzer unable to stop the flock’s clever ruse in getting the farmer to fall asleep in his caravan, but things soon go out of control with the caravan rolling downhill into the Big City; the famer losing his memory and the sheep – and Blitzer – heading off on a mission to rescue the farmer. Just whether they can avoid being spotted as runway sheep and dodge the determined animal catcher forms the core of this rollicking and often plain hilarious animated romp.

Shaun The Sheep Film works extremely well as a film and will capture the excitement and amusement of youngsters well versed in the antics of Shaun and his flock, and as usual Aardman pack in plenty of sight gags for adults, who can’t help but be impressed with the sheer precision and verve that co-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak and their animation team put into the project. It is sophisticated yet innocent, and while always accessible for young fans it never suffers from a lack of dialogue, with the straightforward and breezy story easy to follow and fun to enjoy.

Production companies: Aardman Animation, StudioCanal

International sales: StudioCanal, www.studiocanal.com

Producers: Julie Lockhart, Paul Kewley

Executive producers: Peter Lord, Nick Park, David Sproxton, Olivier Courson, Ronald Halpern

Co-executive producers: Sean Clarke, Alicia Gold, Kerry Lock, Carla Shelley

Cinematography: Charles Copping, Dave Alex Riddett

Editor: Sim Evan-Jones

Production designer: Matt Perry

Music: Ilan Eshkeri

Main cast: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Richard Webber, Kate Harbour, Tim Hands, Andy Nyman, Simon Greenhall, Emma Tate