Trying to create unique character designs for stop motion animals has got to be a major challenge, especially when the titular lead in your movie is a sheep. If there is a species known for individuals that are indistinguishable from one another, it has got to be Ovis aries. They even wear the same goddamn sweater, every last one of them.
Yet you somehow managed to not only create memorable and engaging characters, but you also did so without relying on iconic voice actors. Instead, Shaun The Sheep Movie distinguishes one character from the next through sharp visual storytelling, a deft understanding of why silent films can still work, and your inspired design work.
When the sheep find themselves bored and slightly depressed by the endless monotony of farm life, they decide to take a day off. They incapacitate The Farmer and manage to neutralize Bitzer the dog (whose IQ is north of The Farmers) and settle in for a day of crap TV and smoothies. Surprise, surprise it all goes south and The Farmer ends up an amnesiac in the big city and—through a series of incidents that only make sense in this world—semi-famous in a career he had no idea he had been in training for his entire adult life. The rest of the film revolves around the sheep (often in people’s clothing) trying to restore balance to their universe.
There is a broadness to this film, a kind of Benny Hill energy, that isn’t for everyone. Shaun The Sheep Movie is certainly a film aimed at a particular demographic, and while well executed it is not more than the sum of its parts. Clever and relatively low stakes, without ever taking itself too seriously, it is just fine as an entertainment. There are even the occasional references to noir-ish films, like Cape Fear or (of course) Silence of the Lambs, which dot the stop motion landscape. There are also moments of real emotion, especially a subplot involving stray animals prepping for visiting day in the animal shelter, but everything is in a minor key. And rightly so, given the intended audience.
But the real charm of the film is almost entirely visual: the inventive slapstick, how each character is invested with its own distinct personality (there is stray dog that is the epitome of cute/ugly) and how the world is filled with small details, like Banksy-ish graffiti, is what makes Shaun the Sheep Movie memorable.
That it allows for anyone to enjoy it, whatever their age or native language, is both the strength of Shaun The Sheep Movie, and the thing that means it will never engage in the kind of complex narrative that something like The Boxtrolls features so prominently. As a film its ambitions are simply to entertain and amuse, and in that it is entirely successful.
Inside Out may have the Oscar, but that loss has nothing to do with you, Kate. Your work was subtle but memorable and was a major strength of this quiet, gentle film.