Life as a sheep isn’t too bad, just so long as it includes occasional bursts of irony and adventure. That’s the message delivered by the clever people at the Claymation studio Aardman, makers of Wallace & Gromit, who, like the cotton-ball characters of their newest film, pride themselves on a certain humble, workmanlike efficiency. Based on a British TV show, Shaun the Sheep Movie is about a flock of said creatures who travel to the Big City to rescue their amnesia-stricken farmer. In a bold move that pays off, the movie jettisons dialogue altogether and tells its whole story through barn-animal noises, goofy sound effects, and sight gags so silly they’d make Benny Hill spin in sped-up ecstasy. The effect is contagiously cute. Disguised in human clothes, the sheep score reservations at a fancy restaurant, only to eat the menus. A dog in surgical scrubs is about to perform open-heart surgery on a man—it makes sense in context—but gets distracted by the delicious-looking femur of a skeleton model in the operating room.
As with many in the genre, the movie’s animated adrenaline wears off after about an hour. But even with its stream of visual puns, there’s no denying its humongous bleating heart. In one sweet scene, the animals in a rescue shelter primp for the arrival of prospective new pet owners. The turtle polishes his shell; the snaggletoothed dog combs his matted hair. And the cat in a cone collar—with amusing delusions of Hannibal Lecter—attempts to squeeze out a smile. You won’t have any such difficulty. A–