<b>COTTON EYE CANDY:</b> Aardman Animations’ <i>Shaun the Sheep</i> is near-perfect family entertainment.

Nothing is more reassuring about living on this troubled planet than this simple fact: Aardman Animations is ba-a-ack. Shaun the Sheep is living proof that great artists of wacky vision are best left to muck about in those visions. This claymation, sight-gag rich, slapstick-with-a-human-heart studio has never been better. Originally spun off from Aardman’s most famous creation, Wallace and Gromit (“Chee-eese, Gromit!”), Shaun the Sheep became its own British television show with a brave and simple formula. Shaun is the clever sheep on a small English farm where tedium is the main export. In each episode, Shaun leads his wooly compatriots off the agrarian crib into the bigger world of humans in the company of a dog named Bitzer and a supporting cast that includes Naughty Pigs and a well-meaning farmer.

Rest assured there was no lamb-mentable improvising in the movie version. Shaun indeed exits Mossy Bottom Farm, and a voyage to the city ensues after a hilariously concocted scheme to fool the farmer incorporates a perfect sheep cliché. What happens next involves a fascist animal-control officer and a blow to the farmer’s head that re-creates him as a celebrated hairdresser. There’s even a quick reference to The Silence of the Lambs.

This is near-perfect family entertainment. The Aardman studio formula always worked both high and low. You’ll see jokes about the urge to be fashionable, the route to fame, and the inevitable income inequality gag without a bleat of preachiness in them. Meanwhile there are bundles of dumb pig partying and fart jokes to keep your little lambs in stitches. Their last film, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, was admittedly too highbrow (Charles Darwin was a character), but this film represents Aardman’s return to the simple truth. Life on a farm is both perfect and hellish; the flock has no exit. Ewe should feel sheepish if you miss this movie.


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