Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 24 min.
Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 2; Language 0; Sex 8/Nudity 1.
Our star rating: (1-5): 4
They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made.
Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends.
If you enjoyed the British stop motion animated Wallace and Gromit, you should enjoy this equally quirky and beautifully crafted film directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak. Its themes of love and loyalty and appreciating what we have rather than taking it for granted should resonate with all ages. The film has no dialogue, the animal characters expressing their meaning by grunts and eye expression, and the humans speaking an almost understandable gibberish.
Life on the Mossy Bottom Farm, located a considerable distance from London, aka The Big City, has fallen into a dull routine. At the crack of dawn each morning the balding red-headed Farmer struggles to turn off his alarm clock; gets up and heedlessly slams the door into his dog Bitzer; walks out to check off on his clipboard checks the chores for the day; opens the door where the sheep have spent the night, counts them, and leads them across into a pasture; at the end of the day he and Bitzer bring them back and lock them in the shed. Day after day this pattern is followed, with the Farmer barely conscious of his surroundings or actions.
Shaun, sort of the leader of the flock, has become bored with this routine, especially after spying a bus advertisement urging readers to take a day off. Bribing a duck to distract Bitzer, the sheep lull the Farmer to sleep by the traditional method—forming a circular line, they keep jumping over a fence until the counting puts the Farmer to sleep. (This is a funny tactic that they will use later also.) They place the sleeping human in a house trailer, but it rolls down the highway and connects with a vehicle heading for the Big City. Bitzer chases after the trailer, leaving the sheep now to fend for themselves.
The sheep are free, but soon learn that the routine had provided order to their lives. The disorder that follows is intolerable, with the pigs, like those in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, moving in and taking over the farmhouse. Soon both the house and the farm are as messy as—well, as a pigsty. Shaun and the flock decide to go the Big City and find their lost Farmer, there ensuing a string of hilarious adventures in territory that is so unfamiliar that Shaun must draw upon all of his ingenuity to cope. The adventures also prove to be dangerous, for they come up against the evil A. Trumper, head of Animal Control.
The adventures include the Farmer, losing his memory when knocked on the head, becoming a famous hair stylist by using his sheep shearing skills—part of the humor of this being that hundreds of customers start sporting hairdos that look like the top of Shaun’s head. The sheep, at one point acquiring thrift shop clothing to dress up as humans, and in another cramming themselves into a large horse costume, thwart Trumper so often that he decides to kill them The climactic scene involves his manning a bull dozer and attempting to push them over a cliff. (Oddly, this scene reminded me of the fate of the villainous Hamon in the Biblical story of Esther.)
There are lots of minor characters such as a Hannibal Lector-like cat and the streetwise stray dog, Slip, the latter helping the sheep to survive the perils of the Big City. His fate will warm the hearts of animal lovers, who know all too well that all the real ceatures in animal shelters might not be so fortunate. It is not spoiling things to report that all the residents of Mossy Bottom Farm are re-united and that they have gained a new appreciate of one another and their daily life. This is one more animated film that adults would be wise to watch along with children.
This film with a set of discussion questions will be in the September 2015 issue of VP.