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Ink & Pixel: Shaun The Sheep Movie

03.31.2016

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fan-base, Ink & Pixel has broadened its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy genres. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at steveseigh@joblo.com so we can discuss it further.

When I was 8-years-old, my family and I would make frequent trips out to the backwoods of Pennsylvania to visit my Uncle Pete and his family. They lived on a 15 acre plot of land that Pete, his wife, and two sons had grown into a lucrative apple orchard and farm. Though perhaps what people talked about more than the delicious apples was the periodic sound of gunfire that echoed on the wind from the direction of the orchard. You see, in addition to owning the farm, my uncle was also an illegal arms dealer.

 

From what I can recall, Pete had suffered an injury to his back that had left him bed ridden for life. He'd always been this way since the day we'd been introduced. Each time my family and I would come for a visit, he'd be up in his bedroom, a walk-in closet open on both sides – the walls of which were lined with artillery of every make and model you could imagine. That was the thing about visiting my Uncle Pete: after you were done with the pleasantries, it was time to shoot guns out of his bedside window. His sons and co-workers had even set up a series of tightly packed haystacks to catch the bullets as you fired toward the ground. My father used to brace me from behind and we'd shoot pistols and machine guns to our hearts content. To be honest, I've never liked guns, but my Uncle Pete sure did.

So what's with all this orchard talk? Well, I thought that today we'd take a trip to Mossy Bottom Farm, where a rebellious sheep by the name of Shaun lives with his equally devilish flock of woolly friends. That's right, this week's article is all about the 2015 British stop-motion animated adventure comedy film SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE! Produced by Aardman Animations, and financed by StudioCanal, in association with Anton Capital Entertainment, this outrageously expressive film took Nick Park's lovable creations out of the countryside and into the big city!

Directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, the film tells the story of Shaun and his legion of sheep friends who have grown bored of their graze, shave, repeat lifestyle. With a taste for excitement on his grass-stained lips, Shaun tricks the farmer into falling asleep early one afternoon, leaving the animals to do as they please. Only things take a turn for the ridiculous when the caravan that houses the sleeping farmer unintentionally begins to roll down a hill and all the way into the big city! Alarmed, the farmer's dog, named Blitzer, orders the flock to stay put while he rescues his owner. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Shaun sees this as an opportunity for he and his friends to escape, if only for a little while.

Unfortunately, shortly after arriving in the city, the farmer is struck on the noggin and hospitalized. Though he wasn't seriously injured, it's then discovered that the rancher is now suffering from amnesia, and has forgotten all about his farm and the animals he cares for back in the countryside. As it would happen, Shaun soon realizes that life on the farm is rather unsavory without the farmer's odd companionship and penchant for taking care of the day-to-day chores. Thus, Shaun and his friends mount a search for their owner by disguising themselves as people and hopping aboard a bus that's headed toward the concrete jungle on the outskirts of town. What follows is a hilarious jaunt into the unknown for Shaun and his dim-witted flock of friends. Will they be able to find the farmer, or will the hustle and bustle of an urban metropolis and the encroaching footsteps of a menacing animal control worker named Trumper prove to be too much for them? You'll just have to watch the movie to find out!

As a spin-off of the widely popular Wallace and Gromit franchise, the character of Shaun the Sheep first came onto the stop-motion animated scene via the Aardman-made short film entitled A Close Shave (1995). Later, Shaun appeared once again by way of the 10 episode series Wallace and Gromit's Cracking Contraptions (2002). Although Shaun's involvement and popularity in the world of Wallace and Gromit was limited, creators Nick Park and Richard Starzak believed the sheep to have major potential in becoming a character that could be marketed toward children.

Then, in 2007, the CBBC (a channel associated with UK televised entertainment) launched Shaun the Sheep – an episodic presentation featuring Shaun and a group of his barnyard friends who collectively engage in all manners of mischief and adventure while living on a small rural farm. Each episode is offered as a 7-minute short, with there being a total of 150 episodes all told. The show was met with an array of positive feedback in the months following its debut. So positive in fact, that an additional series was created by the name of Timmy Time – a program aimed at an even younger audience than the original source material from which it was derived.

In regard to the creation and production of the film, writers Mark Burton and Richard Starzak thought long and hard about what it would take to bring their Shaun the Sheep character to the next level for his big screen debut. Finally, the pair thought it would be best to take Shaun out of his comfort zone, and place him right smack dab in the middle of a bustling cityscape. In many ways, Burton and Starzak not only wanted to introduce Shaun to the unknown, but to also set him loose in a locale that would present many challenges.

Speaking of challenges, one of the biggest obstacles that the writers faced was writing scenarios in which Shaun and his friends were able to move about the city without the fear of being scrutinized by the humans that populate it. The solution to that, of course, was for the sheep to disguise themselves by wearing human clothing. This presented Aardman's model making team with the task of designing sheep that not only fit believably into clothing but would also be able to move when wearing it. The answer to this conundrum came by animating the sheep in such a way that they wobbled to and fro while attempting to appear casual to any suspicious passerby.

Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the film is that everything you see was handmade by the model makers and set building crew. For real, there were no on-hand objects readily available for use in the film. If the shot called for a character to ride a bike down a busy street, the bicycle, scenery, and cyclist all had to be built from scratch. Additionally, every locale featured in the film was also hand-crafted. After meticulously constructing the set pieces, each one would then interlock with the other to form one unit. Typically, for the purposes of stop-motion animation, sets are built using a series of panels that are then raised several feet from the ground. This way, the artists and animators can manipulate the models without having to place too much stress on their spines. We all know what repetitious movements can do to the human body. Now imagine if you were to have to get low to the ground for each and every gesture to be captured on a single frame of film. As it is, animators are more than likely a chiropractors dream come true!

SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE managed to shear a worldwide total of $83,475,982 from movie-goers wallets by the close of its theatrical run. The film currently holds an exceptionally impressive 99% Fresh rating over at Rottentomatoes.com and was even nominated as part of the Best Animated Feature category during the 88th Academy Awards - as well as the 73rd Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards. Additionally, SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE received the award for Best Animated Feature at the Toronto Film Critics Awards and was nominated in five separate categories during the 2015 Annie Awards. Not too shabby, eh? Especially when you consider that the film comes from a well respected but smaller studio. Personally, I like knowing that a brilliant film that isn't from the likes of Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, or Blue Sky can make a splash with audiences and critics alike.

As for me, I'm a tremendous fan of this film. In fact, I gave it a place on last year's official Top 5 Animated Films of 2015 list! As I had stated in that article, SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE is a clever animation whose thinly-veiled themes of oppression, imprisonment, and the liberation of ones spirit after being denied your natural rights as a creature of this Earth are not to be missed. And no, it's not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of laughs to be had while capering about the city with Shaun and his compatriots as they search for their amnesiac farmer friend. In fact, one of the stand-out features of this film is the manner in which is uses the act of pantomime to convey much of its emotion and story. It's a rare brand of storytelling that Aardman has managed to master over the years, and it's never proven more effective in telling a heart-warming animated tale than with SHUAN THE SHEEP MOVIE. I highly recommend that you check this one out! See you next time!

Extra Tidbit: The only Aardman-related animation that has yet to receive its own Ink & Pixel article is the film FLUSHED AWAY.

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