Of all the wonders that movies offer, none have changed so little yet lasted so long as Aardman's stop-motion clay animation delights. Since 1972, this British studio has made modest comedies and shorts with what must be maddening precision, hand-shaping motion and expression of droll characters one frame at a time.
From Wallace and Gromit's Oscar winning adventures to Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer music video, Aardman's work is immediately recognizable and enjoyable, even in a minor key effort like Shaun the Sheep Movie.
Aardman's latest work is drier, more childish than usual, even by the studio's standards. For starters, there is practically no dialogue for any of its inhabitants, human or barnyard, only grunts and mews that are decipherable through circumstance and body language. Based on a BBC cartoon series, the movie plays like several shorts linked by a plot skinnier than Shaun's legs.
The stop-motion technique never ceases to fascinate, but the episodic structure of Shaun the Sheep Movie hinders any true emotional buildup and payoff. The movie's amusing, although younger viewers at a recent screening seemed restless.
For the uninitiated, Shaun lives among a flock on Mossy Bottom Farm, a rolling countryside overseen by the Farmer, not the sharpest tool in the shed but a nice enough chap. Each day is like the one before, a schedule of waking, eating, sleeping and one day shearing.
Shaun devises a way for the sheep to take a day off, giving a bread bribe to a duck, in order to distract the boss' loyal dog, Bitzer. Meanwhile, the Farmer falls for the counting sheep trick and winds up sleeping in a camper rolling downhill into Big City, where he'll crash and lose his memory.
That's just the beginning of Shaun the Sheep Movie's narrative leading in several directions. The Farmer's amnesia leads to a new identity incorporating his shearing technique, and Shaun and his pals stow away on buses to Big City, running afoul of an animal containment officer, and resorting to human drag. If a subplot doesn't grab you, another is coming soon.
It's all very silly and British, and the loudest laughs among children Saturday morning were reserved for butt cracks and fart sounds — something else about movies that won't change.
Contact Steve Persall at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.