Is anyone else noticing a particularly interesting trend occurring in the movies at present? Time and again the latest spate of teen and adult-targeted movies have struggled to make a particular impact at a direct experience level. We are currently waist-deep in Awards season, so of course we are rightly praising the cream of the crop that Hollywood (mostly) has provided. Yet when I look back at the past year at the cinema, the films that have had the biggest impact for me have been those that seem primarily targeted at the "family friendly" market. OK, Disney has had a big year (Frozen merchandise still packs out the shop windows - Let It Go already, guys!) but the real highlights for me have been The Lego Movie - right up there in terms of invention, excitement and comic timing (don't even get me started on the snub it's received from Oscar!) - and Paddington - one of the most downright enjoyable trips to the cinema since, well, The Lego Movie. Praise the Gods of Cinema, therefore, that another homegrown hero makes it to the big screen and marks a glorious success for the family movie market in 2015. Because have no doubt about it, national treasures Aardman have taken some very big risks here.
Since his first appearance alongside stop-motion icons Wallace and Gromit in their 1995 adventure A Close Shave (and practically stealing the short film from under his co-stars' finely shaped noses), Shaun the Sheep has become an international megastar, with 130 seven-minute adventures at present being shown in 180 countries. The crafty leader of the Mossy Bottom Farm flock (try saying THAT quickly 10 times in a row!) is a cultural phenomenon with live shows, merchandise - even a theme park arriving later in the year. But the near-silent format that structures the TV episodes poses a big gamble for directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton. But true to the spirit of the show, they stick to their guns - and show us exactly how perfectly a glance, and expression, a mumble can convey the right emotion. The plot is simplicity itself - Shaun and the gang tire of the same daily routine on the farm, so he devises a plan to break out and have a day off. But when the Farmer is lost in the big city with no clue as to who he is, it is up to Shaun and the flock, alongside long-suffering sheepdog Blitzer, to venture into the imposing metropolis and rescue him. The adventures that follow perfectly underline the cinematic genius that works at the heart of Aardman - the slapstick is perfectly timed, the characterization in flawless, the pop-culture references (from the Beatles to Cape Fear, via Silence of the Lambs) are witty and subtle. There's a truly hissable villain in Omit Djalili's animal containment warden Trumper, whose thoroughly-earned comeuppance will inspire a hearty cheer from everyone. But above all, it is 100% downright fantastic - and how many films can truly say that?
Shaun The Sheep Movie is another 24-carat smash from leading animators Aardman - a small story with a big heart, filled with adventure and comedy in generous measures. Make no mistake - if the rest of 2015's movie releases are even half as good as this, we are in for a fantastic year at the cinema!
"What is filmmaking but groping in the dark?" - Alexander Payne