When Jesus uses sheep as a metaphor for those who are obedient, it would seem at first as though He was not talking about Shaun the Sheep. The sheep in this stop-motion animated show are far from your stereotypical gentle and obedient fluff-balls that make nice postcards from your trip to Ireland. For one, they are rough and like to bend (if not outright break) the rules. Second, the lead sheep (Shaun) is semi-intelligent on a human level. Throughout the show, the sheep shift from merely manipulating objects as sheep might to being outright anthropomorphic. They play soccer, dance disco, go to carnivals, go swimming in a pool (complete with toys and snorkels), push each other around on carts, and do farm chores, to name but a few of their adventures.
But indeed, these are the type of sheep that Jesus is talking about – He was never referring to the animals themselves. The sheep that He was always after were human. Silly, fun-loving, petty, and stupid humans. Humans that love to get rough and break rules. Humans that love each other despite petty bickering. Humans that would risk their lives for each other – as Shaun does for the little lamb, Timmy, who wins the award for Most Adorable Lamb. Humans that really can’t stand each other most of the time. Humans that think they are better than others, like the sheepdog does to the sheep. Humans that have no qualms about ruining the fun of others for their own amusement. Dirty, stinking humans, who can yet be gentle and obedient and cute. Just like those real sheep in Ireland.
Shaun the Sheep is fundamentally a children’s cartoon that either fits as filler between longer shows or has episodes strung together to fill a half-hour. About five to six minutes long each, the episodes centre around Shaun, his fellow flock members, the sheepdog, and a bumbling farmer. Other barnyard animals also make appearances. The episode usually has one overarching plot wherein the sheep perform a task, either because they need to (such as when they do chores because the farmer is sick) or – much more often – because they want to, such as when they discover the farmer’s old disco records and decide to open their own dance club. What the sheep want usually results in them needing to fix a mess. Which, granted, they always do. The farmer is usually none the wiser.
The show is almost entirely physical comedy. There is hardly any dialogue. The farmer speaks in such a way that he sounds to be muttering gibberish, while the animals mostly make typical animal noises with the occasional human-like inflection. Despite this, it is riveting. After all, farm animals don’t speak a human language and we wouldn’t expect them to do so. Furthermore, we wouldn’t expect them to understand the farmer. As a result, there is a lot of gesturing. Most viewers can relate.
While the show is aimed at children, it reaches audiences of all ages. There are plenty of things that would go right over children’s heads, but are hilarious to adults. It is a good family show, although I am sure lots of parents are tired of watching the same episodes repeatedly. (There really is no show that is worth watching fifty times in a day because your toddler adores it.)
But when it comes down to it, Shaun is a relatable character. He is smart, creative, and enjoys a good time. His fellow sheep are equally fun-loving, if a bit bumbling and frustrating. The sheepdog is hardworking, loyal, thinks highly of his position, and wants to relax and enjoy himself when he can. The farmer is a decent fellow, if somewhat lonely and nearsighted.
These are the sheep that we are. We aim to be obedient, but we want to have fun. We get easily distracted just as much as we get too caught up in our jobs. We end up back in the field eating grass again.
Until the next adventure.