Shaun the Sheep Movie (Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, 2015)
The look of Aardman Animations' stop-motion characters hasn't changed much in the years since the first Wallace and Gromit short in 1990, though the humanoid characters have become more diverse. We now see people of color, including a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, on the street. And the basic slapstick humor hasn't changed, either. It still has that essentially British overtone, even in Shaun the Sheep Movie, which has no intelligible dialogue. I doubt, for example, that Pixar, even though its films are perceptibly influenced by Aardman, would venture into the kind of fart jokes and the gags based on the anus of a pantomime horse that are on display in this movie. And all of that is to the good. For what the Aardman films do so well -- especially the ones by Nick Park, who created Shaun and his colleagues, and is listed as executive producer on this film -- is revive the fine art of Sennett and Chaplin and Keaton and Arbuckle, the masters of silent slapstick comedy. Aardman has the advantage that its actors are clay and not flesh, so they can undergo assaults that would obliterate even so resilient an actor as Buster Keaton, but it succeeds in making its characters believable by putting limits on the mayhem. We know that the actors are putty in the hands of the animators, and yet somehow we wince at their peril when they're trapped by the villain on the edge of what a sign describes as "Convenient Quarry." (One of the delights of the movie, which makes you want to watch it again, are the blink-and-you-miss-it gags on the fringe of the action, like that sign.) Shaun the Sheep Movie was nominated for the best animated feature Oscar, but lost to Pixar's brilliant Inside Out. These are grand times indeed for animation.