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Shaun The Sheep The Movie (2015)

Twenty years after he first appeared in Nick Park's Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave, Aardman's woolly wonder finally stars in his own feature length adventure. Shaun The Sheep The Movie is actually a big-screen spin-off of Shaun's 2007 TV series but don't worry- you won't need any pre-existing knowledge to enjoy this.

Tired of life on the farm, Shaun comes up with a cunning plan to get a day off. When his scheme accidentally backfires, leaving the Farmer packed off to the big city, it's up to Shaun and his flock to bring him home again. It's a pretty simple set-up, but it's an ideal excuse to put Shaun and co outside their comfort zone and into an adventure big enough to justify the expanded running time. It's a pretty big step up from seven-minute episodes to a full movie, but this never feels like it just an extended  TV episode.

Whenever people talks about films or television being "well written", more often than not they're talking about the quality of the dialogue. What people often overlook is the fact that there's a lot more to screenwriting than dialogue. Writing parts of a screenplay without any speech takes an awful lot of skill, but it never gets the same recognition that brilliantly written dialogue gets. Deft use of both script and storyboarding is a key part of animation that it often not given the credit it deserves.

Anyone who is familiar with the TV series will be aware it's completely free of dialogue. Shaun and his fellow farm dwellers may be distinctly smarter than real animals, but they don't have the power of speech. The humans similarly only communicate  (as it presumably appears to Shaun himself) in gibberish. This style is brought over into the theatrical outing, so the movie is also completely without dialogue.

How well does this work? Unsurprisingly -considering this is from the studio that brought us Gromit, one of the finest mute characters ever devised- amazingly. Shaun has the advantage over his one-time canine co-star in that he at least actually has a mouth and is able to express himself through bleating. Even still. the way that Aardman are able to convey the story without a single line of spoken dialogue is nothing short of remarkable.

Every frame is made with love and the familiar style of Britain's favourite animation studio shines through When it comes to stop-motion they continue to reign supreme.. Although America's LAIKA might have gained the technical edge in recent years, arguably they just can't compete with Aardman for warmth or pure handmade charm.

There are very few film-makers of any stripe out there that can compete with Aardman for visual gags. Naturally, this is packed to the gills with blink-and-you'll-miss-it jokes, Easter eggs and references both to their own work and others that make repeat viewing a must. Despite skewing younger than their other movies, there's also references only the adult viewers will pick up on. And not in a cheap nudge-nudge-wink-wink 'cheeky' way either.  Despite their inevitably being a few Anglo-centric gags that will likely fly over the head of non-Brit audiences, the humour here is universal and will play to an audience of any age.

The addition of a dastardly pet-catcher (who's various non-dialouge noises are provided by British-Iranian stand-up Omid Djalili) adds a sense of peril to proceedings that separate it from Shaun's more domestic small-screen exploits. In retrospect the story of Shaun's journey to the Big City and the Farmer's memory loss was probably enough on its own. However, it doesn't take anything away from the finished result and does bring with it an expertly executed chase sequence at the climax.

The decision to use existing pop music on the soundtrack rather than just relying on the score feels more like a commercial decision than anything else.  The songs chosen do at least fit well with the film's sunny and fun atmosphere gelling well with the overall soundtrack.

Any minor nitpicks, however, are just that. Overall this is a masterpiece of visual storytelling, beautifully made and perhaps most importantly, just very very funny. Aardman have raised the baa once again.

SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital From STUDIOCANAL in the UK and in the US and Canada from LIONSGATE