Silent ‘Shaun the Sheep’ Debuts to Not Baaa-d 850,000 at Box Office

The U.K.’s dialogue-free “Wallace and Gromit” spinoff has made $70 million abroad, but will American kids dig droll?

“Shaun the Sheep” has made $70 million at the overseas box office, but Lionsgate’s British import could have a tougher time in its U.S. debut this weekend. That’s because compared to the wooly claymation wonders, the soft-spoken little yellow guys of “The Minions” are chatty.

It got off to a good start Wednesday, taking in an estimated $850,000 from roughly 2,200 theaters in its first day of release. But expectations for “Shaun the Sheep” are modest as it goes up against the Marvel superhero saga “The Fantastic Four,” Meryl Streep in “Ricki and the Flash” and thriller “The Gift.”

Distributor Lionsgate, which is minimally exposed financially, would be happy to see the PG-rated family film at around $5 million by Sunday.

The “Wallace and Gromit” spinoff is based on a British TV series and features the trademark crude claymation used by the U.K.’s Aardman Animation (“Chicken Run” and “The Piratest Band of Misfits”). The barnyard fable has bleats and oinks, but is virtually dialogue-free.

That makes it an ideal fit for the film’s charmingly simple and understated humor, and makes it easier for kids around the world to follow the barnyard fable. The critics like it too, and have it at a sterling 99 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes after 79 reviews.

But how different it is from typical U.S. kids fare shows in the warning from the press notes about some moments that are “rude.” Most American kids don’t even notice rude, so will they dig the occasionally droll “Shaun the Sheep”?

“I hope so because this is funny stuff, but U.S. kids are used to explosions and generally like things loud, so it’s a little different,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations.

There’s hope. Another U.K. import, the CGI-live action kids tale about the Brits’ beloved bear “Paddington” has made $276 million globally, and took in $76 million in the U.S. for the Weinstein Company earlier this year.

“Shaun the Sheep” is written and directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak and produced by Julie Lockhart and Paul Kewley. It will expand to roughly 2,300 theaters for the weekend.