Remember Esperanto, the constructed language that would bring all nations together? It's been replaced, at least in the movies, by literal babble. A recent example was heard in "Minions," the animated film whose main characters spoke in nonsense peppered with foreign phrases like "para tu" and "mazel tov!" Now comes "Shaun the Sheep Movie," in which everyone speaks only in grunts, gasps, grumbles (and bleats).
This mini-trend may be driven by calculated thinking -- foreign markets are increasingly important to Hollywood profits, and nobody likes to read during a movie -- but it's also fortuitous for Aardman Animations, the creators of "Shaun the Sheep" (and the enduring "Wallace and Gromit" series). Aardman has always been adept at conveying emotion and action using eyes, gestures and body language: Just think of Gromit, a dog who can communicate surprise, fear and even something as nuanced as resentment -- and he doesn't even have a mouth. Shaun may not be quite as endearing, but he certainly has his charm in his big-screen debut.
Shaun, already leading his own television series in England, is a slightly mischievous little sheep who lives with a gruff but loving Farmer. Determined to spice up his daily routine -- eat, sleep, get shorn (hence his gently punny name) -- Shaun pulls a stunt that goes horribly awry. It's a long story, but the rustic Farmer winds up with amnesia in the big city, where he is transformed into a fashion icon. A repentant Shaun and his woolly crew decide to rescue the Farmer, though they'll have to avoid the clutches of the local animal control officer (his card identifies him as A. Trumper).
It's all a bit familiar, and there's something slightly low-energy about the movie's sense of mayhem. The most inspired routine takes place in a fancy French restaurant, where the sheep scandalize the patrons by eating the menus and running amok. As always in an Aardman film, some of the funniest moments come from the smallest characters (a cynical duck, for instance) and the tiniest details (a jailhouse mutt whose knuckle tattoos read "BARK" and "BITE").
The movie's body-function humor is a tad unusual for Aardman, but nothing too offensive. It's a light, breezy movie -- fluffy, you might say -- that is clearly suitable even for pre-verbal viewers.