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'Shaun the Sheep' is sly, understated, stop-motion fun for the whole family
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Shaun (voice of Justin Fletcher, left), The Farmer (voice of John Sparkes, center) and Bitzer (voice of John Sparkes, right) in "Shaun the Sheep Movie. - photo by Josh Terry
SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE 3 stars voices of Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili; PG (rude humor); in general release

Over the last two decades, CGI heavyweights from Pixar and Dreamworks have all but wiped cell animation from our movie screens. But thankfully, studios like Aardman Animations have helped one traditional form of animation stay the course.

Aardmans Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest piece of stop-motion animation to arrive in theaters, adapting the studios popular TV series for the big screen. Aardman is the same company behind 2000s Chicken Run and the popular Wallace and Gromit films, which also used stop-motion. And like in last years Boxtrolls and 1993s The Nightmare Before Christmas perhaps pop cultures most familiar stop-motion film the style adds a wealth of personality.

The story mines the exploits of a clever sheep on an idyllic farm. Shaun lives in a world of routine. Every morning, the rooster sparks an interactive dance between Bitzer the dog, the pigs, the farmer and Shauns fellow sheep. But even in a beautiful rural landscape, the life is mechanical.

Shaun is the only one who seems to appreciate this. Hes a little smaller and smarter than his fellow sheep and is marked by a curious tuft of wool on the top of his head. One day, a bus advertisement suggests that Shaun take a day off, so he devises an elaborate plan to trick the farmer into sleeping through the work day.

Unfortunately, the plan misfires dramatically, and an amusing cause-effect sequence leaves the farmer in a big city hospital coping with a bout of amnesia while the farm remains unattended. The sheep are out of their pen, the pigs take over the farmhouse and chaos reigns.

Hoping to make things right, Shaun and the other sheep make a frightening journey into the big city (its literally called The Big City), where they encounter a menacing Animal Containment man who is determined to put the citys four-legged population behind bars.

In the meantime, the farmer stumbles his way out of the hospital and into a new career as a hair stylist, thanks to his superior skills with clipping shears.

It all adds up to a very low-key, clever animated adventure, full of understated British humor. None of the characters talk even the adults communicate through a series of muttering grunts and only the films soundtrack offers occasional dialogue.

The writing from directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak (who also shared the screenwriting duties) is very smart. (Be on the watch for visual gags such as the man in the chicken outfit crossing the road, among numerous others.) But the lack of dialogue and the films deliberate pacing make Shaun strain at its 85-minute run time. Fans of the TV show will get plenty to enjoy here, but even they will probably agree that the stories are a better fit for the small screen.

The Wallace and Gromit films also leaned hard on visual humor and subtlety over dialogue, but Wallaces dialogue did help to pace the action a bit. Shaun the Sheep requires a bit more focus, and if your child has a typical 21st-century attention span, he or she might struggle to stay dialed in.

If you can get past that, Shaun the Sheep is another great marriage of sly British wit and the character of stop-motion animation. It may take a back seat to Inside Out on parents summer movie lists, but like its special brand of animation, Shaun the Sheep deserves its place.

Shaun the Sheep Movie is rated PG for rude humor; running time: 85 minutes.