Child confounds cynical cinephile. Future of film is fixed.

Having reached my quarter-life milestone I’ve become ever so aware of the growing cynicism that I have for the world, even for the parts of it that I adore. It’s all too easy to slip into the mindset and overlook so much of the good that still permeates our everyday lives when we’re not rolling our eyes or shaking our heads with worried disbelief. I have noticed it particularly in the way I view the world of film.

As someone striving to find my critical voice and hone it until it reaches something approaching a sincere and insightful level, I’ve had to operate with the accepted knowledge that my opinion is golden. Part of this comes from wanting to have proper convictions about films and to not abandon my own views in the wake of dissimilar professional opinion, and that’s a good thing to have. The down side of this however, is that you start to feel like you know a lot. You start to believe that you’ve become good at analysing films and passing judgement on whether they’re good, bad, or even worth the time. Maybe you’ll be right about a couple, but pressing on in this manner and not allowing creative works to settle and breathe means that you often only see a film in relation to the worth you assign to it from your own perspective, and rarely do you grasp the worth it may have to others.

Why am I starting this way? Because having seen the trailer for Dreamworks latest film, entitled Home, I had set in my mind that this was nothing more than a bit of animated flim-flam utterly devoid of any innovative spark for storytelling, and perhaps worst of all a vehicle for clunky pop-culture humour, the sort that is painfully recognisable as an adult trying to be ‘down with the kids’. I haven’t seen the film but frankly I have no desire to. The trailer just left me cold, and made me elevate Pixar’s Inside Out to saviour for animation in 2015.

All of this went out the window when I had a brief conversation with a young girl when I was cleaning the cinema after a screening of Home. She was waiting for her father to collect his belongings and so I asked her if she had enjoyed the film. She emphatically replied that she had, which naturally brought a smile to my face – if this kid enjoyed it then she’ll surely be open to other cinematic adventures, we’re off to a good start here. But what she said next really took me by surprise. I should add at this point that she was not in distress and was clearly in a cheerful mood. She told me that while she was no stranger to the cinema, this was the first time that she had cried at the end of a film.

I carried on cleaning but continued to think on her response a little later, and in a Grinch-like manner, the conclusion I got from it warmed my cynical heart quite a bit. As decreed by my obviously superior powers of discernment, Home is a film not worth the time, and when I finally get round to watching it my preconceptions might be spot on, but the very same film contains enough heartfelt emotion that it moved a young girl to tears, in the same way that certain scenes in Interstellar move me to tears.

Roger Ebert has been quoted as saying that, “the movies are like a machine that generates empathy” and I don’t think he could be more right. We all have our different tastes and different films will affect us in different ways, but it is so comforting to know that a film I may brush aside as uninspiring still has the power to move a child to tears. You could examine this in more detail but ultimately I feel it means one thing – Cinema is still important, and that is a very very good thing.

Hooray for films!

Life’s a treat with… – Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015) Review

Shaun the Sheep Movie poster“He doesn’t miss a trick or ever lose a beat”

This line, spoken of Shaun the sheep in the theme song to his highly popular kids TV show, could easily be spoken of Aardman Animations (albeit with a few grammatical alterations). Since Chicken Run back at the start of the millennium, the studio has had hit after hit on the big screen, even with the less critically well-received Flushed Away. They have a knack for crafting endearing adventures that delight audiences young and old and their latest effort continues that stellar run of form.

In all honesty, even as an ardent Aardman fan, I had some doubts whether a TV show pitched at younger viewers could make the transition to the cinema. Each episode contains a short story resolved by the closing credits and runs for 7 minutes – twelve times shorter than the 85 minute feature length stated on IMDB. Does the concept still entertain with an extended runtime? Of course it does, and with such aplomb that I’m ashamed I even entertained those concerns in the first place.

The setup is brilliantly straight-forward. Desiring a day off from the same schedule, Shaun hatches a plan to distract The Farmer, but the ploy goes awry and it’s up to Shaun and his flock to locate their master in the big city and bring him home. Whilst it may not have the narrative depth of Curse of the Were-Rabbit for instance, it’s so jam-packed with fun moments that it turns into an hilarious adventure. This, in no small part, is down to the collective talents of all those working at Aardman and their fine-tuned understanding of visual comedy.

Shaun the Sheep Movie flock

As viewers of the TV show will already know, Shaun the Sheep – like its stop-motion compatriot Pingu – contains no dialogue at all. The closest it gets are the mumblings of The Farmer which are indistinguishable as spoken words.Therefore all the comedy must come through expressions, actions, and the careful arrangement of objects within the frame; exactly the same rules that governed the great silent comedies of Chaplin, Lloyd, and Keaton. It’s a visual language that’s difficult to get right, but one that allows so many opportunities for laughs to be packed into a widescreen space. Suffice to say that the creators have a fluency perhaps only matched nowadays in the work of Edgar Wright.

Diversity is also key to the success of the humour because while the film is squarely aimed at children, it contains a range of sophistication to the jokes that will also appeal to adults, such as the sprinkling of clever pop-culture references which are sure to please seasoned cinephiles. This is arguably the best measure of a kids film, in that it isn’t a film solely for kids. It’s an utter delight for those of all ages.

Leaving the rib-ticklingly universal humour aside in closing, Shaun the Sheep Movie is also full to the brim with joy and warmth. I believe this is due to medium of claymation which has a wonderfully tactile quality that is always evident, even thought it’s easy to forget about it when caught up in the adorable character design. You’ll know what I mean when you see baby Shaun. I don’t have much more to say other than it’s a lovely movie. Get out there and see it. And bring as many family members and friends along so you can all share in its warm and fuzzy feeling.