Stop-Motion Animation & "Shaun the Sheep"

With the release of the well-received "Shaun the Sheep" out in theaters right now, we figured it would be a good time to look back at the very best that stop-motion animation had to offer us over the years. This isn't a new technique by any stretch of the imagination. There have been many examples and stories of the claymation art being used almost a century ago, most notably in 1933's King Kong, which had animator Willis O'Brien creating the aforementioned monster-sized ape via the stop-motion animation art. Here are five movies that made unequivocally beautiful art out of it.

Chicken Run (2000)

Chickens run amok! What better way to start this list than with the 2000 gem starring Mel Gibson as the leader of a flock of feathered birds trying to get out of the horrid conditions at their farm. If time runs out they're going to be chicken pie, which is actually what the farmers make out of these chickens. Yikes. It's The Great Escape poultry style, with an added dash of British wit. How can you go wrong with that? Gibson works up his charm and stop-motion animation filmmaker extraordinaires Peter Lord and Nick Park seem to be having a blast creating visual miracles with the animation.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

At the time of this movie's release, Wallace and Gromit were well-known in the U.K. for their kooky antics on TV, but mainstream American audiences were first introduced to the duo via The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, a visually stunning and imaginative stop-motion Animation masterpiece. The tale of a cheery British man and his sly, silent, but surprisingly smart dog radiated the screen with enough genius and wit that it scored an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. In this adventure, the duo accidentally create a Frankenstein-like rabbit that terrorizes the town. The visual miracles that spring forth are splendidly devised, all thanks to Nick Park and Steve Box.

Shaun the Sheep (2015)

Now in theaters is Shaun the Sheep, which features some of the best dialogue-free scenes in recent memory. The film has scarcely any spoken words, as it just relies on its visuals to entertain us, and does a marvelous job at that. Clearly influenced by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton's physical screwball comedy, directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton have fashioned a classic out of such a simple story. A complete freak accident sends a farmer tumbling down the road to a bigger city where he loses all memory of his life and accidentally becomes a famous hairdresser for the celebrities. It's up to his flock of sheep to get him back to the farm, but not without going through the most insanely crafted screwball adventures imaginable. Just like Wallace and Gromit, the cast of characters were well known in the U.K. prior to the film's release, but if audience reaction and the deluge of rave reviews is any indication, this won't be the last we hear of them.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

When it comes to Christmas counter-programming on television during the holiday season, it's really hard to top Henry Selick's classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas. The story of Jack Skellington from Halloween Town who opens up a portal and discovers Christmas Town, a holiday which springs up new feelings and ideals in him, is an imaginative romp with the the most insanely designed characters imaginable. The musical numbers are inventive, especially the highlight "This is Halloween". Produced by Tim Burton, the film has the gothic, darkly humorous feel of a Burton production, right down to the spirit of the film, which is a sort of ode or love letter to dread, darkness, and holiday spirit. How much more Burton-esque can you get?

The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Wes Anderson had just finished making The Darjeeling Limited when he embarked on an ambitious adventure: adapting Roald Dahl's classic The Fantastic Mr. Fox into a feature film. The decision to make it using stop-motion animation turned out to be an inspiring one. George Clooney voices the titular Fox, a character so ingrained in helping his family survive that he decides to go on one last heist, this one involving the three biggest farmers around. The pièce de resistance is the Apple Cider farm which ends the film on an exuberantly high note and features a chase scene worthy of any one I've seen in movies. The soundtrack is impeccable, the screenplay is witty and fun, and the voice acting is tremendous with a who's who of actors: the aforementioned Clooney, Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox, and Bill Murray as Clive Badger.