One of the special features on the Criterion Collection edition of City Lights is a lengthy interview with Peter Lord, one of the animators that has worked extensively with Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park. Lord praises the foundational nature of Charlie Chaplin’s work, and his words ring true even in 2015. I bring all of this up because one of Park’s creations did its very best to bring the direct legacy of Chaplin in to the present. It might seem strange to compare a stop-motion animation kids movie like Shaun the Sheep Movie to a live-action silent (capital F) film from, oh, nine decades ago, but that’s only true if you’re focusing on a few superficial facts.
The characters of Shaun the Sheep Movie – most of whom first appeared in a Wallace and Gromit short – combine pathos and adorably clever sight gags on their way from Mossy Bottom Farm to Big City and back. And they do it – even the humans – while barely uttering a word that could be comprehended by anyone besides the teacher from Charlie Brown.
There are elements of The Tramp in Shaun, the troublemaking sheep who, in seeking a big day off in Big City, brings chaos to Mossy Bottom Farm. But you can find The Tramp in Bitzer, the dog charged with keeping things in order on the farm, and in the farmer, who, suffering from amnesia, winds up as a hairstylist for the stars in Big City.
Shaun the Sheep Movie positively drips with charm, whether the farmer is shearing a celebrity’s hair like he might one of his sheep or Shaun and company are tricking the farmer to sleep by jumping over a fence again and again.
Though it is a family film, it might also be a tough sell to your kids. Shaun the Sheep Movie doesn’t go for cheap laughs like, say, a Dreamworks animated feature might. There isn’t much Three Stooges-style slapstick or bodily function-related humor. This is the kind of childrens’ movie that demands a bit of an attention span (but only a bit). The payoff isn’t so much in deep belly laughs as it is in a slowly cracked smile and a twinkle in the eye. If you’re asking me, though, it’s worth the extra effort.